The Hawthorne effect refers to some studies that were done on how training impacts employees’ productivity at work (edit: this statement is a little misleading, please see the note at the bottom of the article). The studies found that sending someone to training produces employees that work harder. The funny part about it is that you still get the productivity increase even if the training doesn’t teach them how to be better at their jobs. Sending someone to training helps them feel like they are important, like the company is investing in them and they are valuable. Because of this, they work harder.
Obviously, if you send them to training that helps them do their jobs better, you might see even more of an increase. However, if you have the option of sending an employee to relevant training that costs $20,000 or an underwater basket weaving course that costs $200, a cost benefit analysis might make the basket weaving seem pretty attractive.
You can apply this to help motivate yourself, as well. Make sure you take the time to invest in yourself. This may mean going to a conference or training. It might mean reading a book or regularly checking a blog for productivity tips. (Had to throw that one in there.) The point is to make sure that you are doing things on purpose to better yourself. Showing yourself that you are valuable and worth investing in will increase what you are able to accomplish, both from the new skills you acquire and from showing your subconscious that you believe in yourself.
Note: As Don pointed out below, the original Hawthorne experiments were measuring the productivity of workers while changing the light levels. The Hawthorne Effect is basically the idea that if you pay attention to someone, their performance will improve. I first encountered the Hawthorne Effect in education theory, so when this was written, I applied it to education. The actual Hawthorne Effect is much more general and applies to any type of attention being paid to an individual or group. Other experiments have used education, time with upper management, and other forms of attention to observe the effect. There are also a bunch of people that think the whole idea of the Hawthorne Effect is stupid and basically a silly story people have been telling each other for years. Another group thinks that it is just the placebo effect and doesn’t deserve its own name.
Originally published November 1, 2005.
Don Matteson says
Actually, the Hawthorne effect refers to a series of studies on worker productivity in the 1920s and 1930s. The researchers manipulated lots of different variables (e.g., lighting levels) and noted increases in productivity that they ascribed to workers feeling like someone was paying them some attention. (A fun observation is that the actual level of lighting didn’t matter. As long as the workers were being paid some attention — and they could see well enough to work — productivity increased.)
Ben Brooks says
This is a very interesting concept, and very true. I had not thought about this before but in reflecting back on my work experience I find that this holds true in most all instances.
Catherine Cantieri, Sorted says
It seems so simple: treat employees like they matter and they’ll care more about their work. But so many companies just don’t. My last company gave us a whopping two hours of training in three years, in the form of two one-hour seminars required by the government and the parent company, respectively. The parent company even had an online university, but we weren’t allowed to take any of the courses offered. That said a lot about how much we were valued at that place.
The overall affect is something I have observed and attribute to the idea people care more because management cares more. Training or not…. The opposite seems true as well. When they are forced to attend training and don’t want to they almost become self destructive. Not sure if that is the opposite or not but, the ideas of what people get out of training and why is worth watching closely.
Terry Murphy says
It is interesting that I was trying to remember the name of this effect for a book I am writing. In a quick attempt to remind myself of the name, I called about a dozen training providers and training design companies in my area. A number of them even took my question and asked around their organisation, but not one of them could tell me the name Hawthorne Effect and only one admitted to knowing about the effect.
Now why would a company trying to make money out of training, not know that they might be effective despite their training programs instead of because of them??