No Image Available

Seb Anthony

Read more from Seb Anthony

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });



I remember attending a training session many years ago and the trainer recounted a story about workers in a poorly lit factory. From memory, the management had increased the lighting and productivity had gone up, then they decreased it again but productivity remained the same.
Can anyone fill in the gaps - is it just a story the trainer made up or is it from someone's theory?
Lisa Birch

9 Responses

  1. Hawthorne Effect
    The trainer may have been referring to work that was carried out in the Hawthorne Plant of Western Electric. Various conditions were manipulated eg. lighting, humidity etc to see what effect they had on productivity. They also changed breaktimes etc. Productivity would increase when conditions were manipulated. Over the years a number of criticisms and conclusions have been levelled at and drawn from the study eg. that people perform better if they’re being monitored.

  2. Taking an interest
    Contrary to Wayne Mullen’s suggestion, my belief was that the conclusion was that people were more productive if someone took an interest in them (NOT ‘monitored’). That productivity improved consequent upon apparently ‘negative’ changes in working condition (reducing lighting levels, break lengths…) was a key conclusion.
    Do read it up on the link given ealrier…


  3. Observed or cared for?
    I have recollections of references made to this experiment from the many management courses attended over the years. My suppositions agree with Geoff Roberts, in that the workforce were consulted prior to the changes taking place, and the feeling of being cared for was the overriding factor in the increased productivity. The presumption is that a well managed change can improve the perception of working conditions to the extent that productivity improves as a result of how the change was managed (not necessarily the change itself). Thus, when lighting levels were subsequently lowered, it resulted again in improved productivity. I have seen the reverse, where excellent changes that obviously benefit all concerned have been managed so badly that the workforce become disgruntled and productivity declines.

  4. A marketing exercise gone wrong..
    The original aim of the Hawthorne experiment was to show the productivity increase that came from using GE’s new brighter lamps that burnt the same wattage.

    Sadly raising or lowering the light level increased productivity. Also other groups in the factory improved on the “if they can do it so can we” basis.

    Why don’t they teach this in basic management class?

    You can find all the references through the Harvard Business Review.

  5. Hawthorne Effect
    I have to agree with Harry Leyland 100%.

    The original intent of the experiment was to demonstrate the effect of different lighting levels on production but it actually turned out to be about a measured change in the level of performance when the workforce felt they were being listened to by management.

    The big question is why is this not taught in management schools.

    We have been taught by Drucker, Deming et al for the last sixty years that you will improve performance if you listen to the workforce, because when they know that they are being listened to, given respect and support, they start to care about what they are doing and we already know what performance people are capable of when they are allowed to care.

    The reason it is not taught is because creating the environment that allows the workforce to start to care is a soft skill that management schools have no idea how to implement because it has never been done, until recently.

    There are now three books that tell stories of what happened when these soft skills were implemented and what they were.

    The ability to teach these skills in management schools will eventually become common currency but until then the stories of how it was done area available in only three books that I know of,

    Breaking the Mould – Peter A Hunter
    Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed – Ben Simonton
    A Happy Business Story – Stewart Henry.

  6. Lighting Experiment
    The whole project of Mayo’s Hawthorne studies are in Organisational Behaviour by Buchanan and Huczynski. Which explains the project in datail including reference to the lighting experiment and the effects of group dynamics

  7. What is taught on management courses
    I suspect that the Hawthorne effect is taught on most management courses, but for some reason theories of motivation seem to have little impact on management practice. Another example is change management. Managing change is taught on most management courses but in my experience it is rare to see the theories of change management applied in the workplace. Perhaps I have been unlucky, but during 30 years in the NHS and 10 years in higher education, I have rarely seen modern management principles being applied. I can remember lots of examples of archaic practice. The value of management theory often appears to be limited to acquiring a qualification.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!