The ‘Hawthorne Effect’ is a term used to refer to the tendency of human beings to work harder and perform better when they are aware that they are being observed. The change (improvement) in behaviour of workers and in their performance culminates solely because they are conscious to be part of a research/study or under observation, rather than because of any manipulation in the other input or control variables.
A series of studies conducted at the Hawthorne, Illinois Plant of Western Electric during 1927 to 1933 by Elton Mayo and his team of researchers from Harvard University first illustrated and defined the effect. The studies were carried out with an intention to examine the relationship between worker productivity and work environment. The first studyaltered factory light intensity to study its relationship with worker productivity. The researchers found that productivity improved, not from the lighting (experimental variable), but from the attention the workers received from the researchers,which led to the Hawthorne Effect.
The human resource management application of the observation is that employee motivation is affected as much or more by show of concern and recognition, or by creating awareness in the minds of the workers that they are being observed and judged, as it is by inducing improvements in their work conditions.