What Is the Hawthorne Effect?

The Hawthorne effect refers to the change in the behavior of participants in a study when they are aware of being observed.

In the workplace, the Hawthorne effect translates into a change in employee behavior depending on the attention paid by their supervisor or manager.

How Does the Hawthorne Effect Work?

The Hawthorne effect suggests that people who know they are being watched will adapt their behavior according to the results they hope to achieve or wish to demonstrate.

For example, if people know they’re part of a scientific experiment, their behavior won’t be entirely authentic, since they’ll adapt according to the results they think they’ll achieve.

What Is the Hawthorne Effect at Work?

According to the Hawthorne effect, people tend to be more motivated and productive when they feel observed or valued, regardless of the conditions to which they are subjected.

For example, employees who know that their work performance is being closely observed will tend to do their best to demonstrate their productivity.

What Are Some Examples of the Hawthorne Effect?

Examples of the Hawthorne effect include:

  • Employees who become more productive, no matter what conditions they are subjected to during an experiment, because they know they are being observed by researchers.
  • Market research participants who modify their answers to questions to show that their decisions are based on rational facts rather than emotions.
  • Employees who modify their answers to questions about their job satisfaction, knowing that their employer will have access to their answers.

What Can Be Learned From the Hawthorne Effect in the Workplace?

The lessons managers can learn from the Hawthorne effect include:

  • Employees who feel listened to and valued are more productive and perform better.
  • Employees who know they are well supervised generally perform better.
  • Small changes can increase employee motivation.
  • Social factors greatly influence employee performance.
  • Management practices have a direct impact on employee performance, motivation and satisfaction.

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