Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Hawthorne Effect

I had cause to refer to this recently, and struggled to remember the name. Hopefully a summary here will help me remember in future.

Studies carried out at the Hawthorne Works (outside Chicago) between 1924-1932 showed that changes in the working environment could improve productivity. But the improvement was only short lived, leading to the conclusion that people were responding because something had changed, and not to the change to the environment itself.

There is an article on Wikipedia


Anonymous said...

About the biggest myth ever arising from psychology. The Parsons paper (referenced in Wikipedia) is a very thorough analysis.

But basically, if your employer changed the colour of the walls or any of the other minor/silly things that people were apparently responding to in the 1920's, would it induce you and your fellow employees to become more productive. If it worked, think about the business opportunities. The real issue is why are people so suseptible to this rubbish - the psychological equivalent to the miracles of so-called health food.

Human factors in risk management said...

I'm intrigued by the comment.

First, I thought it was pretty well accepted that things like wall colour and lighting can affect perceptions of wellbeing, and hence productivity.

Secondly, I never consider the studies to be an indication that these factors are making the difference. Instead, the interesting thing is that any improvement is only short lived. Hence, minor differences to wall colour or lighting are not having an effect, so it must be something else. In most cases it is because someone is showing an interest in what the workers are doing, which acts as a motivating factor. I believe it is pretty well accepted that motivation does impact on productivity.