The Hawthorne Effect: The Value of Paying Attention to Your Employees

The Hawthorne studies served as a springboard that led to the development of the human relations management approach. In the experiment, a team of researchers observed if manipulating the work environment affects a worker’s productivity. The results show that working conditions don’t have a significant effect on employee performance. Instead, it was the feeling that the management was paying attention to them and their needs that boosted their productivity.

The Hawthorne Effect Today

Organizations today incorporate this phenomenon of the “Hawthorne effect” into many of their management practices. They are taking steps to ensure that they satisfy the physical and social needs of their employees in the workplace.

One of the ways that managers make their workers feel valued is by including them in the decision-making processes of the company. They also try to provide a channel where employees can provide their feedback about internal issues and concerns because this creates a sensitive and compassionate work culture.

Workers also feel valued when they receive recognition from higher-ups. Whether it comes in the form of verbal praise or through bonuses and financial incentives, the employees’ satisfaction levels increase when they receive acknowledgment for their efforts.

Employers also try to provide a good work setting to maximize employee productivity. One of the recent methods companies do to create the ideal work environment is by bringing back modern cubicles for offices, since employees are asking for more private space at work.

Some companies have even established nontraditional office designs to emphasize their worker’s comfort and satisfaction in the workplace. For instance, Facebook dedicated a room for playing video games, while Google’s San Francisco office installed metal slides from one floor to the next so that employees won’t have to take the stairs. These atypical implementations not only boost creativity and productivity among workers but also make them feel that the management cares for their well-being.

The Problem with Hawthorne Studies

manager with employee

Despite being deeply ingrained in human relations theories, recent studies are disputing the credibility of the Hawthorne experiments due to its flawed research design. Researchers claim that the team behind the Hawthorne studies cherry-picked the data, leading to manipulated and unreliable results.

There are also discrepancies in the documentation of the experiments. Part of the Hawthorne studies was the relay assembly test room experiment. A group of five women worked on telephone connections in an isolated room. In the original report, the major variable in this experiment was the special attention given to the workers, which increased their productivity. But several accounts reveal that the researchers offered the women higher financial compensation, which could have been a driver of their performance.

The Value of Paying Attention

Although the Hawthorne studies lack scientific value, its organizational and psychological impacts can’t be underestimated. Researchers have further examined the effects of paying attention to workers’ needs, and the results are conclusive: it does boost their productivity.

Plenty of theories support this claim, including the famous Hierarchy of Needs by Abraham Maslow. The fulfillment of employees’ needs in the workplace increases their job satisfaction, which in turn makes them more productive workers.

So whether you’re using the Hawthorne experiments or other studies as your basis, the fact is that giving attention to your employees and satisfying their needs will lead to good results. Think of ways you can make them feel more valued and you can expect more productive workers.


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