Want to motivate your workers? Let them know they’re being watched. This is less creepy than it sounds on the surface: social psychologists have observed that people work harder when they know that their colleagues are paying attention. It’s less about being Big Brother, and more about being part of a community. In other words, if you’re a manager, simply being engaged with your employees can make a big difference to their productivity.
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The Hawthorne Effect is named after an industrial study performed in Chicago in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The intent was to study the how the work environment affects employee labor, motivation, and productivity. All sorts of things were periodically changed during the course of the long experiment, including rest breaks, hours worked, and even dimming and brightening the lights. Contrary to researcher expectations, productivity improved every time something changed, even if the lights were dimmed.
When all was said and done, the researchers concluded that workers responded to fact that others were watching and taking an interest in their work and levels of productivity. In other words, working with dim light in cramped conditions did not decrease productivity; rather, when the change was made, productivity went up because the workers knew people were watching.
Please don’t put your team in cramped conditions with poor lighting after reading this article! What we must take from this piece of history is the importance of paying attention. There is a maxim in psychology: observation changes the thing observed. When the workers in Chicago knew they were being observed, they worked in a more productive fashion.
When you are leading a team, stay up-to-date with them about how the project is going. Ask questions, and let them know you care about their work and are paying attention. The very fact that you are watching will likely increase their motivation and productivity.
The benefits of being observed in the workplace may be part of the incentive to create cubicles in offices. The American Psychological Association (APA) points out that reviews of cubicles are mixed.
Certainly, cubicles are less expensive than numerous private offices and make it easier to connect with other employees. For example, the APA discusses how workers in open offices can see how busy their co-workers are, and wait to approach until the person seems more at ease. When your colleague is in a closed office, you are more likely to interrupt at a bad time because you can’t see them. Open offices also make it easier to have impromptu conversations, instead of waiting for a scheduled meeting.
The pitfalls of cubicles include loud co-workers and people with poor boundaries. Loud telephone conversations in one cubicle may disrupt the entire office. And even though you may look very busy and focused on what you are doing, there is always the one person who doesn’t read social cues and interrupts you to talk about his weekend.
Nothing is perfect. In the end, workers and team leaders can learn a lot from the Hawthorne Effect. Pay attention to your team members, care about how the project is going, and increase motivation and productivity for everybody involved.
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