Hawthorne's Effect on the Workplace

Researchers still wonder what causes increased productivity levels.

Researchers still wonder what causes increased productivity levels.

The term "Hawthorne Effect" stems from experiments carried out at a Western Electric factory in Hawthorne, a suburb of Chicago, in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Workplace characteristics were altered to see if that influenced workers’ productivity. Changes in lighting, breaks, work hours and other conditions brought about an increase in productivity. However, researchers concluded it wasn't the improvement of conditions that caused this, but the fact that somebody was showing concern for the workers’ workplace conditions and observing their performance.

The Hawthorne Effect in Modern Workplaces

Although the Hawthorne effect is viewed critically by modern researchers, the relationship between employer and employees has always been crucial to employees’ productivity. In the second section of its 2013 study, Gallup pointed out 70 percent of employees are not engaged and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces, leading to lower productivity and even acts of sabotage (see Reference 2). As women increasingly enter male-dominated professions, they might encounter an atmosphere not well suited to their needs, which can lead to lower productivity. Employers may not be well equipped to deal with women’s concerns or have somebody in place to serve as a contact person or mediator.

Informal Group Dynamics

The researchers also suggested informal group dynamics among employees contributed to increased productivity of single individuals. Following this assumption, the issue of gender differences comes to mind. In the fifth chapter of “Gender and Communication at the Workplace," Linda L. Carli pointed out that men are thought to be more dominant and assertive than women (see Reference 3). Another aspect she mentioned is that men tend to interrupt others more often. Hence, men’s and women’s different communication styles and behaviors are decisive factors in group dynamics and depending on whether the overall dynamic is positive or not, individual productivity can increase or decrease.

Productive and Unproductive Groups

How a group perceives itself matters as well. You can positively influence your own productivity levels and those of your colleagues if you pay more attention to how the group members interact and introduce changes if necessary. If you’re not sure how to make that judgment, start by observing how your colleagues relate to their job. Negative comments, procrastination, sabotaging and other counter-productive individual behavior can reflect the overall productivity level of the group. Even employees who are usually productive can become unproductive when placed in the wrong group.

Misinterpretation of Women’s Workplace Behavior

People often misinterpret women's behavior in the workplace. You might have detected this problem in your own thoughts and attitude. Commonly acknowledged stereotypes about women exacerbate the situation. Women are often confronted with the stigma of being all about talking and chatting. Because of this, a group of female employees that engages in conversation might easily be perceived as unproductive. Women should be aware of this problem, especially because management’s perception of their productivity is tied to promotions, raises and other advances.

 

About the Author

Dr. Andrea S. Dauber has been writing since 2008. Her areas of expertise are personal and career development. She has published everything from scholarly articles to book chapters. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Mainz, Germany. As a certified professional and career coach, she coaches clients and conducts workshops at universities.

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