2. George Elton Mayo, born in 1880, was an Australian organizational
theorist, psychologist, and industrial field researcher.
While in Queensland, Australia, Mayo researched the psychoanalytic
treatment of shellshock and helped treat returning World War I soldiers
overcoming the crushing mental duress of battle. Later, he served as a
professor of industrial research at Harvard University.
3. Mayo’s Hawthorne Studies
In 1924, Mayo studied the relationship
between worker performance and
factory lighting at Chicago’s Western
Electric Hawthorne Plant.
The question at hand was whether
various levels of artificial lighting in the
plant would boost employee productivity
or make workers drowsy.
The results of the study were published
in 1927 and are recognized as one of the
earliest studies of human behavior in the
4. The researchers were surprised by the outcomes of
◎ The management team at the plant found that employees in the
test lab exhibited higher than usual productivity throughout the
study, but responded very little to the changes in lighting. It was
not until the lighting was as dim as moonlight that workers
expressed difficulty seeing their work and showed a decline in
◎ The researchers concluded that increased productivity through
the majority of the study was a result of workers’ perceptions
that management was paying attention to them and cared about
◎ What is unique about the “Hawthorne effect” is that there is
virtually no measureable evidence to back up these
assumptions, yet it is commonly referenced in organizational
behavior theory and implemented in management systems.
Some refer to the Hawthorne effect as a “creation myth.”
5. Charted productivity outcomes from the Hawthorne
studies demonstrate consistently high production rates
throughout changes to workspace lighting configurations.
6. “The Hawthorne effect” is
described as as the phenomenon
in which subjects in behavioral
studies change their performance
in response to being observed.
7. Key learnings from the study:
Work is a group
An adult’s social lifeis primarily arrangedaround work.
groups in the
work habits and
The human need for
security have a
greater effect on
A worker’s attitudesand effectivenessare conditioned bysocial factors,including their placeof work.
Organizations areadaptive societieswhere membersmust keep up withchanging practices.This constant shiftcan be disruptive tothe function of thebusiness.
8. Weaknesses of the study...
◎ There were many uncontrolled variables.
◎ The human relations, which were considered part of
the study’s conclusion, were not closely monitored.
◎ “If a human is being experimented upon, he is likely to
know it. Therefore, his attitudes toward the
experiment and toward the experimenters become
very important factors in determining his responses to
the situation” -Roethlisberger (as cited in Wickstrom,
◎ Workers were consulted about decisions such as the
times and lengths of rest periods during the work day.
Neither the alteration of rest periods, nor the worker’s
input were considered in the study’s outcomes.
9. Weaknesses of the study… (cont.)
◎ 50 years after the studies were carried out,
employees claimed in an interview that they worked
so hard in the test room in order to avoid transfer
back to the ordinary manufacturing department
where supervision was perceived as harsh.
◎ 2 of the 5 subjects in the initial tests were replaced
midway through the study. This could have
explained the maintenance of a higher productivity.
◎ The subjects in the test room were placed on a
production based incentive pay system. Especially
during the Great Depression, this would have
boosted efforts during the work day.
10. Benefits of the Hawthorne Study...
◎ While the integrity of the study has faced criticism, the
findings resonate with the work of many other
industrial and management theorists.
◎ The concepts of two-way communication, involving
staff, listening to workers’ ideas and opinions, and
trying to create a positive culture in the workplace
make up the basis of employee engagement today.
◎ The studies urged employers to step away from the
dehumanizing pattern of viewing staff simply as
resources. By treating members of a staff as respected
and valued individuals, workers become more
engaged with their work and with the social
environment of the workplace.
11. Do these principles still exist
◎ Despite Mayo’s conclusion that physical environment has
negligible influence on productivity, many businesses today
focus on altering the work environment to encourage a
social and collaborative workplace. The whimsical and
playful offices of high profile Silicon Valley companies are a
◎ Many businesses focus on employee input in policy and
procedure development. Open door policies, town hall style
staff meetings, and special task forces drawn from the
employee base demonstrate management’s interest in its
◎ By allowing employees to hold a stake in the business’s
development, employees are urged to take ownership in
their work and the solutions to workplace problems.
13. Do these principles still exist
◎ Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, affirms the
assumptions drawn from Mayo’s study. “Motivation starts
when an individual experiences a need; the individual then
formulates a goal, which, upon achievement, will satisfy the
need.” Maslow, 1954 (as cited in Maslow, 1998)
◎ The social level of Maslow’s Hierarchy, the need to love, to
be loved, and to belong, addresses the subjects’ reaction to
the attention paid by management. The greater extent to
which the needs of the hierarchy are fulfilled, the more
satisfied the employee will be, thus influencing a greater
14. From the leadership point of
view today, organizations that
do not pay sufficient attention
to ‘cultural’ variables and the
deep sentiments and
relationships that connect
people are consistently less
successful than those that do.
◎ Gorman, H.S. (1966). Hawthorne: A study in solitude. New York, NY: Biblo and
◎ Maslow, A.H. (1998) Motivation and Personality, 1st Edition. New York, NY: Harper &
◎ Robertson, F. (2009). Mayo's hawthorne study. In M. Wright (Ed.), Gower Handbook
of Internal Communication (p. 153-155). Abingdon, GB: Taylor and Francis.
◎ The “Hawthorne effect” (2012). Harvard Business School Historical Collections. http:
◎ Waggoner, H. H. (1963). Hawthorne: A critical study. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press
of Harvard University Press.
◎ Wickstrom, G., & Bendix, T. (2000). The "hawthorne effect" — what did the original
hawthorne studies actually show? Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment &
Health, 26(4), 363-367.