The Hawthorne Effect: Mattering

It’s impossible to study business for more than about 3 weeks without running into this phenomenon called the Hawthorne effect. As a matter of fact, if you were to sit through the beginning of any business course, I swear you will run into this before you even had a chance to do your first homework assignment. It’s a very well observed and well documented phenomenon that one can not get away from. The Hawthorne effect is basically saying that people modify their behavior when they know that they are being observed; also known as the observation effect. This phenomenon has been taken a number of different ways including the way that the supervisor looks over peoples shoulders.

The Hawthorne Experiments

The Hawthorne experiment was done at a place called the Hawthorne Plant. The researchers, Mayo and Roethilsberger, were trying to figure out what was it that actually motivated workers to produce on a higher level. In these experiments, they realized that when people were being watched, and when they knew that they were being watched, their productivity dramatically increased. Even if people were not being watched, if they thought that they were being watched their productivity does still increase. Now this is something that is pretty amazing. Does this mean that we should be the look over the shoulder micro-managing supervisor? Or what does this imply?

Fake Work?
Some people would say that this shows that people are motivated by fake work. That we need to be severe and on people. Some people also say that any application of the Hawthorne Effect would be fake work and artificial motivation. Some bosses don’t care, because they only care about work getting done, and if this is going to have the work get done then they are willing to do it. Honestly I don’t hold these sentiments of artificial work at all. I believe that something else is at work as well.

Results of the Experiment

The experiment wasn’t limited to how people react when they are being watched. It was about what increased productivity and employee motivation. They found out in this process that when people knew the study was going on, that they would produce more. So the researchers didn’t assume a “supervisor” role, they were simply observers. This is why it’s not the best to conclude that it’s because of the supervisor, that people do fake work. People were doing real work and were more motivated to accomplish their work when they were being watched.

This experiment made some other discoveries as to what motivates people at work. People worked well when they were held accountable, when they were in groups, when they had social fulfillment, and surprisingly, when they were given all of the responsibility by being isolated to work alone. After reviewing the study, I’ve found my own conclusion, PEOPLE WORK BEST WHEN THEY FEEL LIKE WHAT THEY DO MATTERS.

My Conclusion

People do their best work when they know that what they do actually matters. When the study was going on, people did modify their behavior based on being observed. But it’s not because they wanted to look better. You have to understand the dilemma of most american workers. They go to work feeling like a cog in the system that is mostly insignificant. The observers in this study were not there to provide punishment or promotion, they simply observed and kept people anonymous. This just shows that people didn’t modify their behavior because their supervisor was watching and there was this pain or pleasure thing.

My conclusion is that people modified their behavior because they felt like their work finally mattered. PEOPLE WANT TO FEEL LIKE THEY MATTER. All of the other observations showed that this was the underlying feature.

When held accountable, people are given the sense that what they are doing really matters. When working as part of a group, they are made to feel like they matter. And when working in complete isolation they have all the responsibility to get things done, showing that they matter. In the end of the study, they found out that more money was a poor motivator, because money doesn’t always let someone know that they matter.

My conclusion is that in the end it wasn’t the fact that the observation happened, but the fact that people finally felt significant enough to matter. The point that I’m making is that if we want to help people to do their best work and make their most significant contribution, it’s not about the observing, but making people know that they actually do matter.

So in your life of trying to find out how you can help people do their best work, try to ask yourself, “How can I let this person know that they are significant and that they matter?”