August 12, 2018

The productivity role of caring about employees

James McCusker in the Everett Herald used the recent New Zealand experiment in cutting work hours to discuss a less commonly calculated change: improved caring about workers.  

We should bear in mind the “Hawthorne Effect.” Named for the Hawthorne Works Western Electric manufacturing plant where the experiments took place, a team of industrial analysts headed up by Harvard Business School Professor Elton Mayo first changed the lighting in the workplace. Productivity went up, and the analysts figured that the lighting change was the cause.

Later, the team then changed the color of the workplace walls, and productivity went up again. Hmmm. They then began to change other things like lunch break times and workspace cleaning and, sure enough, productivity went up each time they changed something … and declined after the experiment was over.

Elton Mayo eventually figured out what was happening and revealed the real source of the productivity increases: the attention being paid to the workers.

Many modern workplaces are better at producing stress than productivity. They are characterized by constant activity, a boundless appetite for meetings, an incessant noise level from telephone and in-person conversations, and a pronounced tendency toward disarray.

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