What the Hawthorne Effect Tells Us About Employee Engagement
Productivity is something of a modern concept. It wasn't until the early 20th century that scientists began studying workplace conditions to see how a worker's environment impacted productivity. One set of famous studies took place at the Hawthorne Works, a division of Western Electric. An experimental protocol was set up to study whether workers were more productive in well-lighted conditions or poorly lighted conditions. The base rate of productivity was secretly measured before the tests began and then workers were tested in different lighting conditions.
As might be expected, productivity increased when lighting conditions improved. But what researches did not expect was that productivity also improved when lighting conditions were made worse. It turns out that these experiments captured what happens when employees know they are being observed. They work harder.
One of the reasons for employee disengagement is that workers may be confused about whether or not their output makes a difference. We all know stories where people have put their heart and soul into a project only to learn later that the project had been canceled without their knowledge. In a lot of cases employees have a pretty good idea that their work is not being monitored in any real way. Nobody wants to put a lot of effort into meaningless busy work.
Judging by the Hawthorne Effect, simply having recognition that acknowledges individual effort should put an organization on track to better productivity. On a deeper level, if managers want their employees to be engaged then management needs to set the terms of engagement and be the first to reach out.