What’s the Hawthorne Effect on Performance?

What’s the Hawthorne Effect on Performance?

“No man goes before his time—unless the boss leaves early.”

-Groucho Marx

What’s the Hawthorne Effect on Performance?

If no one is watching, you may feel free to slack off at work. Then, as soon as your supervisor comes around the corner, you snap back into action.

That’s an example of the Hawthorne effect. It’s the idea that being watched affects your performance or behavior.

People tend to increase their output when they think they’re being observed. You try to perform better when being watched.

What Is the Hawthorne Effect?

The Hawthorne effect originated from a series of studies completed in the 1920s and 1930s.

The concept was named the “Hawthorne effect” after the Hawthorne Works factory where the studies were completed.

A company wanted to determine whether lighting conditions influenced worker productivity. Researchers found that productivity increased, regardless of the lighting conditions.

A second series of studies found that workers experienced increased productivity when a supervisor was present.

Several decades later, in 1958, a researcher concluded that the test subjects in each set of studies worked harder simply due to the presence of the research team. The act of being observed for research altered the workers’ behavior.

So, if you think you’re being watched, you may work harder.

The Symbol of an Eye Causes People to Behave

When someone sees a poster or sign that depicts an eye, they tend to feel that they are being watched. For example, many neighborhoods have neighborhood watch signs with the illustration of an eyeball.

This is called the “watching-eye effect”. It’s like the Hawthorne effect but involves an image of an eye instead of a real person watching over you.

One study found that placing watching eyes in public places decreased antisocial behavior by 35%. Posters that depict a watching eye may be all that’s needed to mimic the Hawthorne effect on some level.

Hawthorne Effect vs. Stage Fright

The Hawthorne effect shouldn’t be confused with performance anxiety, or stage fright, which produces almost the opposite reaction.

With performance anxiety, your performance worsens when being watched. According to the Hawthorne effect, your performance improves when being watched.

Practicing the violin at 50% of your ability until the instructor walks into the room before suddenly giving it your full attention is an example of the Hawthorne effect. You can become a master violinist in your bedroom but struggle to perform in front of an audience. That’s performance anxiety.

How to Use the Hawthorne Effect in Your Daily Life

Leveraging the underlying principles of the Hawthorne effect may help improve your own productivity. Here are a few ways to incorporate the concept into your daily life:

  • Set goals
  • Track your progress
  • Seek feedback
  • Collaborate

Setting goals and tracking progress requires you to observe your output, which can improve motivation and productivity. This is a form of self-monitoring that helps you remain accountable. Accountability can keep you committed to completing your goals.

Even when not required, you should ask someone for input before completing a project. Seeking feedback is a form of observation. It stimulates the Hawthorne effect and may drive you to perform at the top of your game.

Collaboration is another way to use the Hawthorne effect to your benefit. When you collaborate on a project, your work is frequently observed by someone else. This may encourage you to work harder, as you don’t want to disappoint your collaborators.

Last Thoughts on the Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne effect isn’t a new concept, but it’s worth thinking about for those looking to boost productivity.

Setting goals, tracking progress, seeking feedback, and collaborating on projects could help recreate the same effects illustrated by the Hawthorne effect.

If you think that someone is watching you, you’re likely to perform better. In fact, even an image of an eye is sometimes enough to encourage better behavior.