Someone Was Thinking About Me!

Posted on June 21, 2014

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attentionWhen it comes to showing concern for employees, the perception may be more important than the demonstration.

We all like stuff. We like new things. We desire improvement in our environment. Being the recipient of new toys and tools will often give us renewed energy, especially if we have a positive perception of why the gift came our way. Employees are no different.

When it comes to increasing employee engagement, the employees’ perception will often outweigh whatever is provided to the employee by their supervisor or employer. This was one of the findings in what has become known as…

The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect goes back to a study over 80 years ago. It took place at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company. The study found that employees who knew they were being observed, changed their performance. In this landmark experiment groundbreaking concepts in relation to job satisfaction, worker participation and productivity were birthed.

At the Hawthorne plant, two groups of employees were studied. For one group, the lighting was dramatically improved while the other group continued to work under typical lighting. Productivity increased dramatically among the employees receiving the additional lighting. Other changes were initiated, including working hours and rest breaks. Each time a change was made, productivity increased. However, what is truly fascinating about the study is that once the conditions returned to the pre-study stage, productivity was at its highest level.

Someone Was Thinking About Me!

Why? Why did productivity remain high? Psychologists have concluded the productivity was the result of employees knowing they were being observed. Yet, it wasn’t simply the “observation.” Behaviorist will often point to how the employees perceived they were the objects of attention. “Someone was thinking about me.”

Donald Clark makes this application to Employee Engagement. “The studies…showed that the relations that supervisors develop with workers tend to influence the manner in which the workers carry out directives. Clark even defines the Hawthorne Effect as an increase in worker productivity produced by the psychological stimulus of being singled out and made to feel important.”

If this analysis is on target. Then the productivity was not a result of better lighting, but the perception that management had made a decision favoring employees. The employees believed someone was looking out for them; they believed someone was tending to their needs and attempting to make their work-life more pleasant. As a result, productivity increased.

HR and the Hawthorne Effect

Simple improvements to working conditions can increase employee engagement and productivity. Lighting may be sufficient in our offices and plants today, but we can find ways to demonstrate a care and concern for our employees.

I take this seriously in my HR role at our small firm. Coming out of the recession I felt it was important to find ways to communicate concern for our employees. Just over the last couple of years we have made simple improvements to our working conditions. We have provided each of our employees with large, dual monitor screens at their workstations. If an employee requests a wireless mouse we provide it. We recently added a new identity protection benefit that was well received. Much of our work environment improvements have focused on wellness initiatives where we were careful to communicate how the motivation behind the initiatives was to improve the lives of our employees. These new initiatives included adding fresh fruit to the break room, opportunity to earn money toward fitness equipment and reimbursements for gym memberships or weight-management classes and most, recently, providing equipment which allows employees to move between sitting or standing at their desks. Each time we tweak the working environment we communicate concern for our team. If our team members perceive that our firm cares for them, gains should be experienced in productivity and engagement.

Supervisors, HR leaders and upper management should always be attuned to the needs of employees and make effort to show attention to the employee by meeting those needs. The key, however, is to make sure the new initiatives are rightly perceived as genuine concern.

And, of course, the starting point is genuine concern.

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Clark, D.R. Hawthorne Effect. Retrieved from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/history/hawthorne.html

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