Almost any change led to increased productivity

Friday, January 10th, 2020

The term Hawthorne effect was coined in 1958 by Henry A. Landsberger when he was analyzing earlier experiments from 1924–32 at the Hawthorne Works (a Western Electric factory outside Chicago) to describe the surprising finding of the numerous productivity studies:

The original purpose of the Hawthorne studies was to examine how different aspects of the work environment, such as lighting, the timing of breaks, and the length of the workday, had on worker productivity.

In the most famous of the experiments, the focus of the study was to determine if increasing or decreasing the amount of light that workers received would have an effect on how productive workers were during their shifts. Employee productivity seemed to increase due to the changes but then decreased once the experiment was over.

What the researchers in the original studies found was that almost any change to the experimental conditions led to increases in productivity. When illumination was decreased to the levels of candlelight, production increased. In other variations of the experiments, the production also improved when breaks were eliminated entirely and when the workday was lengthened.

The results were surprising and the researchers concluded at the time that workers were actually responding to the increased attention from their supervisors. Researchers suggested that productivity increased due to attention and not because of changes in the experimental variables. Landsberger defined the Hawthorne effect as a short-term improvement in performance caused by observing workers.


  1. Kirk says:

    Did I bring this to the fore…? :)

  2. Isegoria says:

    So, David Whitewolf’s comment reminded me that I still hadn’t posted anything on the Hawthorne Effect, even though it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d post about, so I put something together, scheduled it for this afternoon, saw Kirk’s comment, and then saw the post go live.

  3. Kirk says:

    LOL… Thus requiring any explanation of this universe to include some accounting for all of these coincidental things that seem very unlikely to line up with each other.

  4. Wang Wei Lin says:

    When managers give me attention I stop and talk to them. Eventually it dawns on them that work has stopped and they leave. Mission accomplished!

  5. Bruce says:

    I first read about the Hawthorne effect in Peyton Quinn’s Bouncer’s Guide to Barroom Brawling. Wonder how many others did?

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