The Hawthorne Effect was an experiment conducted by Elton Mayor during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The research took place at the Hawthorne Works Western Electric factory located in the town of Hawthorne, Illinois (outside of Chicago). The purpose of the study was to determine if modifying the levels in lighting at the facility would have an effect on production levels by employees.

What came as a surprise to researchers was that not only did the increased light have a positive effect on employee production, but employees also increased productivity when the light decreased. After these findings, researchers began to change other working conditions such as providing rest breaks and changing the work hours. They discovered that with change, no matter what the change, productivity increased. However, after the experiment was completed, and the observers had left the factory, production decreased again.

What researchers concluded from these studies was that modified conditions alone were not responsible for having an effect on the employee’s productivity. Instead, the change was attributed to the fact that someone was observing and concerned about the employee’s performance, work environment, and surroundings.

Over the years, there has been much debate by researchers about the validity of the results in the Hawthorne study. Some say that the methods used were insufficient to draw such conclusions. Though, it is hard to argue with the general concept that productivity will increase when employees are being observed. Typically, people improve their behavior when they know someone is watching. For example, if you are driving and you notice the traffic light turn yellow are you more likely to stop if there is a cop nearby? Short-term modifications in behavior do not signify real change.

Although, short-term increases in productivity can be beneficial, can simply monitoring your employees result in the long-term performance improvement you are seeking? Of course not, management must go further too:

1) Value employees. Create a culture of employee engagement. It is important for employees to feel that their concerns are being heard and that they are contributing to a common purpose. There is a link between employee engagement and satisfaction that positively affects productivity. You do not need a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior or a Six Sigma Masters Black Belt to value your employees. It just takes time, energy, and engagement.

How will you know if your employees are engaged and their performance is improving?

2) Measure it. The old saying goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. Measuring both employee engagement and employee performance is important if you plan to improve upon it. Measuring performance is a necessary way to keep track of the progress of your business. It also puts you in a better position to manage proactively rather than reactively.

3) Set Goals. Setting goals benefit both the employee and the employer. It helps provide focus, improves performance, motivation and employee engagement. It also offers measurability that will help employees and employers measure their progress to see how their efforts are making an impact.