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The hawthorne plant_study

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The hawthorne plant_study

  1. 1. The Hawthorne Plant Study: A Flawed Experiment In 1927, researchers began a study in the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company in Cicero, Illinois. They had been called in by the factory’s managers to find out what conditions in the factory might be changed to boost productivity. The researchers designed a study in which productivity was the dependent variable and length of rest periods, workday, and workweek were the independent variables. The researchers selected five women as participants in the study. The women were to work as a team in a room where they could be observed. The researchers introduced rest pauses of varying lengths throughout the workday. They observed the women to see how their productivity was affected. The researchers then began to shorten the workday and, later, the workweek. Again, they observed the changes in productivity. At first, the researchers observed that as they increased rest periods and shorted the workday and workweek, the women’s overall output increased. It appeared that, with more rest, workers returned to their jobs refreshed and therefore were able to produce more. To check their findings, the researchers slowly returned to the original schedule—with shorter rest periods, a longer workday, and a longer workweek. To the surprise of the researchers, the women’s output remained higher than it had been at the beginning of the study. How could that be? The research team concluded that the increase in output was caused not by the independent variables (length of rest pauses, workday, and workweek) but by another variable—the women’s awareness that they were being observed. They felt special because of the unusual attention they were receiving; thus, they worked harder. This phenomenon came to be known as the “Hawthorne Effect.” It was a valuable finding, and led to the theory that one effective way to increase worker productivity was simply to pay more attention to the workers. However, its value notwithstanding, the finding was accidental and a result of flawed study design. To test the variables they wanted to test, the researchers could have conducted a blind study. In such as study, at least some of the participants would not have known they were being observed. Alternatively, the researchers could have established a control group—a group of participants who knew they were being observed but did not receive any of the treatments that the members of the experimental group received. The design of the Hawthorne study had some other flaws as well. For one thing, the experimental group was exceedingly small. A sample size of five is
  2. 2. really not large enough to be able to generalize conclusions about the larger population. Furthermore, the sample did not remain constant over the course of the whole experiment. Two of the women in the group were replaced in the middle of the study because they talked too much, their productivity was low, and they were considered a negative influence on the others. Their removal may well have biased the results in favor of increased productivity. Moreover, the researchers may have misinterpreted the results of the study. The conclusion that productivity remained high even after the women returned to the original schedule was not completely correct. Total output stayed about the same, but it was achieved in more hours. In other words, hourly productivity actually dropped. In addition, the researchers never considered that the longer one does a job, the more skilled one becomes. That in itself may increase productivity. Because of these flaws, the existence of the Hawthorne Effect has been called into question. The Hawthorne Effect remains only a hypothesis. Questions: 1. Why do you think being observed may make some people work harder than others? Provide some examples from your own lives. 2. List some instances when attention might have a negative effect or no effect at all. 3. What might account for the differences in performance reactions to the extra attention? 4. How might you redesign the Hawthorne study to eliminate its flaws?