Group Dynamics and the Public Sphere

Psychology in the Workplace

What is the “Hawthorne Effect”?

In the 1920s and 1930s, a series of studies was carried out in the Hawthorne factory of the Western Electric Company in Chicago. The experiment was conducted from the vantage point of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s theory of scientific management. The experimenters manipulated working conditions in a number of ways to determine what conditions would best enhance productivity. They attended to the temperature and level of humidity in the room, the hours worked, the amount of sleep the workers had, their meals, and various other variables.

After a year or two of this, performance greatly improved. This was at first attributed to the experimental manipulations (e.g., changing the level of light in the room). However, when working conditions were returned to their original state, the improvement continued. The experimenters finally realized that the improvement in worker performance was due less to changes in task conditions than to the human element inherent in the studies. While conducting these studies, the experimenters continually consulted the workers and paid careful attention to almost every detail of their work life. Because of this, workers felt valued and empowered, which greatly enhanced their work performance.


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