The Hawthorne Effect and Your Culture

office ceilingWhat do you pay attention to in your work environment? Do you actively engage with players regularly to learn what’s going well and what’s not, or do they rarely see you? Or are you somewhere in between those extremes?

Interaction and attention from leaders can have a beneficial impact on employee’s feelings of contribution, value, and worth, which can boost productivity and service.

The Hawthorne Effect refers to a study done by Elton Mayo at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works factory, outside of Chicago, IL, in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The purpose of the study was to analyze the effects of workplace conditions on individual productivity.

Mayo and his team focused on two groups – a test group which endured the changes to their environment and a control group which operated in an unchanging work environment. Workers in the test group experienced a number of changes to their working conditions, including lighting, working hours, rest breaks, food offered during breaks, etc. Workers were involved in what changes were going to happen (how long and how frequently their breaks were, for example). Productivity was carefully monitored following each change. Workers were then asked if the change was beneficial, how it might be refined to test the change again, etc.

Mayo’s research found that, compared to the control group, nearly every change resulted in increased individual productivity. Even after all changes reverted to the original conditions, productivity increased.

The initial findings from this important study led to recommendations that leaders engage with members of the workforce. After all, it wasn’t the lighting or breaks that boosted performance, it was the engagement of the workers by the researchers.

Later analysis discovered some flaws in that original research as well as highlighting the social impact of workers being 1) experimented upon and 2) having a say in the changes that were implemented.

The test team bonded together like no other team in that factory. These women (all workers at the time were women) felt their ideas were valued. They were working together to help work conditions be more beneficial for their peers across the factory – that gave their efforts meaning beyond the day-to-day production activities they faced.

This is the most significant finding – in my humble opinion – from the Hawthorne Works research. Making team members and teams feel valued as well as helping them find meaning and purpose beyond their own tactical skill application boosts employee well-being and productivity.

You don’t need a formal organizational initiative to value team members and help them find meaning – contribution to the greater good – in their efforts. It just takes time, energy, and engagement.

Leaders, that’s your job. Embrace it and enjoy it!

How do your leaders show team members they appreciate them? How is your team serving a “greater good” today? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

How healthy is your team or company’s culture? Don’t guess – get the data with my online Culture Effectiveness Assessment.

Want hands-on guidance for boosting productivity while reducing drama at work? Join me in Denver for my Culture Leadership Roundtable. This series, based on my book, The Culture Engine, meets one-morning-a-month starting in March.

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