The term gets its name from a factory called the Hawthorne Works, where a series of experiments on factory workers were carried out between 1924 and 1932.
This effect was observed for minute increases in illumination. Evaluation of the Hawthorne effect continues in the modern era.
Most industrial/occupational psychology and organizational behavior textbooks refer to the illumination studies. Only occasionally are the rest of the studies mentioned. In the lighting studies, light intensity was altered to examine its effect on worker productivity.
Relay Assembly Experiments
In one of the studies, experimenters chose two women as test subjects and asked them to choose four other workers to join the test group. Together the women worked in a separate room over the course of five years (1927-1932) assembling telephone relays.
Output was measured mechanically by counting how many finished relays each dropped down a chute. This measuring began in secret two weeks before moving the women to an experiment room and continued throughout the study. In the experiment room, they had a supervisor who discussed changes with them and at times used their suggestions. Then the researchers spent five years measuring how different variables impacted the group's and individuals' productivity. Some of the variables were:
• changing the pay rules so that the group was paid for overall group production, not individual production
• giving two 5-minute breaks (after a discussion with them on the best length of time) and then changing to two 10-minute breaks (not their preference). Productivity increased, but when they received six 5-minute rests, they disliked it and reduced output.
• providing food during the breaks.
• shortening the day by 30 minutes (output went up); shortening it more (output per hour went up, but overall output decreased); returning to the first condition (where output peaked).
Changing a variable usually increased productivity, even if the variable was just a change back to the original condition. However it is said that this is the natural process of the human being to adapt to the environment without knowing the objective of the experiment occurring. Researchers concluded that the workers worked harder because they thought that they were being monitored individually.
Researchers hypothesized that choosing one's own coworkers, working as a group, being treated as special (as evidenced by working in a separate room) and having a sympathetic supervisor were the real reasons for the productivity increase. One interpretation, mainly due to Elton Mayo, was that "the six individuals became a team and the team gave itself wholeheartedly and spontaneously to cooperation in the experiment." (There was a second relay assembly test room study whose results were not as significant as the first experiment.)
The workers were interviewed in attempt to validate the Hawthorne Studies. The participants were asked about supervisory practices and employee morale. The results proved that upward communication in an organization creates a positive attitude in the work environment. The workers feel pleased that their ideas are being heard.
Bank Wiring Room Experiments
The researchers did their last experiment on workers in the bank wiring room. Through this experiment, the workers found that the beflavioural norms set by the-work group had a powerful influence over the productivity of the group. In sum and substance, the higher the norms, the greater the productivity and vice versa. The bank wiring room experiments well confirmed the effect of the power of the peer group and importance of group influence on workers behaviour and productivity.
The finest contribution of the Hawthorne Studies is that it laid a foundation of understanding people's social and psychological behaviour at the work place. It opened new vistas and frontiers to the study of managing men which has been followed by many behavioural scientists since then. That it has paved the way for further researches in human management as Landsberger puts it, "A most spectacular academic battle has raged since then or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a limited number of gunners has kept up a steady barrage, reusing the same ammunition. The beleaguered Mayo Garrison, however has, continued its existence behind the solid protection of factory walls." However, the Hawthorne Experiments are not free from criticism. These experiments have been severely criticised by the Australian and English researchers as being inadequately controlled and interpreted. However, what is the most important in the Hawthorne Studies that these stimulated an interest in the human factor in organizations. The studies discovered that the informal associations to be found in almost every organization profoundly affect workers efficiency at work.
The purpose of the Bank Writing Room Experiment study was to find out how payment incentives would affect group productivity. The surprising result was that productivity actually decreased. Workers apparently had become suspicious that their productivity may have been boosted to justify firing some of the workers later on. The study was conducted by Mayo and W. Lloyd Warner between 1931 and 1932 on a group of fourteen men who put together telephone switching equipment. The researchers found that although the workers were paid according to individual productivity, productivity decreased because the men were afraid that the company would lower the base rate. Detailed observation between the men revealed the existence of informal groups or "cliques" within the formal groups. These cliques developed informal rules of behavior as well as mechanisms to enforce them. The cliques served to control group members and to manage bosses; when bosses asked questions, clique members gave the same responses, even if they were untrue. These results show that workers were more responsive to the social force of their peer groups than to the control and incentives of management.