Ever heard of the Hawthorne Studies that was conducted between 1929 and 1932 by Elton Mayo in U.S.A.? Till date, researchers view these studies as a turning point for conducting research in the area of I/O Psychology.
So, what exactly are the Hawthorne Studies? It consists of a series of experiments where the researchers manipulated variables such as rest periods, free lunches and shorter workdays to understand which of these has the maximum impact on worker productivity.
What sets Hawthorne apart from other studies conducted in this field is that even after the researchers stopped providing these benefits, production continued to rise. Initially, the researchers were puzzled. Why would production continue to rise when benefits were not being provided?
To make sense of the situation, they decided to interview the workers. It was found that being observed by the researchers and their interest in the work being done is what encouraged them to maintain the high level of productivity.
In other words, for the workers, being cared for as ‘individuals’ by the management mattered more than receiving certain benefits. Being observed by the researchers made the workers feel important as a result of which they continued working to meet the high targets.
Would one get similar results if these experiments were replicated at the workplace today? Would the productivity of the employees rise if they were being observed and monitored at work? Or, on the flipside, with the rising number of Gen Y employees at the workplace, would this be interpreted as an employee’s invasion of privacy?
To ensure employees do not fall in the ‘misunderstanding trap’, the following initiatives based on the Hawthorne Studies can be applied keeping in mind their aspirations:
- Specific Feedback: While you and I prefer the management to give us autonomy at work, the latter is expected to monitor our performance to ensure specific feedback can be given on a regular basis. Thus, feedback could be given by focusing on our strengths as this would make us feel that our organization values us for who we are.
- Interpersonal Relationships: In context of these Studies, workers were seen to perform better when they were working with a cohesive peer group. Similarly, by encouraging team work during employee engagement activities and cross-departmental activities, organizations could help enhance their work output.
In a competitive market that organizations face today, focus is bound to be shifted towards increasing targets and deadlines. However, bringing in the ‘people perspective’ by making an effort to understand employees’ needs and preferences has a range of benefits as well.
To conclude, the findings of the Hawthorne Studies are still relevant in organizations today. However, to ensure the organization benefits in the long run, it is important for employees to feel they are being cared for as ‘individuals’ by the management.
Elton Mayo and his team did this unintentionally, as a part of their research. Time we started doing this consciously?
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