b-school, HRM, Project Management

Workers crave for attention (The Hawthorne effect)

It happened long ago, in 1924. Taylorism was in its apogee so it was only reasonable that there were studies going on at the Hawthorne Works. Testing different ways of doing things. Groups of workers, reduced time of work, output rate peaked, more reduced time of work, output rate soared again, total output decreased. Then back to normal, output rate had risen… wait a moment… risen?

What the Hawthorne experiments showed was that giving attention to a group of workers always paid off. According to Mayo, that was because they now considered themselves part of a team instead of isolated workers. According to other sources, even isolated workers raised productivity. They had been singled out, they were special, they were being monitored, they were being listened to.

The Hawthorne effect didn’t get its name till 1955, yet it’s interesting to see how they concluded that upward communication in an organisation raised morale. And with the morale rise came a productivity rise. The service-profit chain at its best, starting with employees, finishing at the bottom line.

They were not that different from us. We still crave for attention. Good managers are the one that, in the midst of the crazy hectic pace of work, can still provide it. It’s so tough to do so. Personally, when I don’t even have time to write this blog, how can I remember to talk to everyone?

Yet that’s vital. Especially in tough times, where employee morale is subject to the ups and downs of collective morale, so troubled. We need to find the time.

In crises, where layoffs are there, what message should we send to the ones that are staying? Unless we listen to them, unless we communicate with them, there will be one clear distinct message for them: that they are next in line. Unless we listen. Now more than ever, maybe we should use the Hawthorne effect to our advantage.


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