The Hawthorne Effect

One of the biggest names in the history of management is not the name of a guru but the name of a factory: Hawthorne Works. This is the factory where a series of experiments on factory workers were carried out between 1924 and 1932.

There were many types of experiments conducted on the employees, but the purpose of the original ones was to study the effect of lighting on workers’ productivity. When researchers found that productivity almost always increased after a change in illumination, no matter what the level of illumination was, a second set of experiments began, supervised by Harvard University professors Elton Mayo, Fritz Roethlisberger and William J. Dickson.

They experimented on other types of changes in the working environment, using a study group of five young women. Again, no matter the change in conditions, the women nearly always produced more. The researchers reported that they had accidentally found a way to increase productivity. Hence the term ‘Hawthorne Effect’.

In other words: the Hawthone studies gave scientific evidence of the fact that attention is a resource worth managing. In an earlier post I have argued that Time, Money and Manpower are not the only resources you should be managing. Management is the art of working with people, so it is pretty useful to know what drives people. The answer to this question is attention and feedback on results. That is because every human being has a fundamental need to be proud of what he or she is doing. Spening attention means granting them that opportunity.

The one thing you need to know about the Hawthorne effect is that it is by far the most mentioned management term used by academics. However, to the same extent that this term is abundant in management books, the concept of attention management is underdeveloped. Attention Management is at ground zero as you are reading this, although the scientific evidence is gathering dust for almost 80 years now. There is still some work at hand if we want to make it to the league of Money, Time and Manpower.