Hawthorne Studies: Human Resource Management

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This paper talks about human resource management as a field as it aims to exemplify upon proven research and data pertaining to the popular Hawthorne Studies. The paper focuses its attention on the implications of the Hawthorne Studies, while it also highlights what has been the key learning to organizations and individuals from these studies. The paper after this, as a flow to the discussion under hand, talks about the role of norms at the workplace. It firstly, lists down all these norms, and then carefully explains what these norms mean to organizations, when they are applied.

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Human resource management is an area of expertise in the developing world. It entails a proper set of theories to manage the most important resource that any company or organization, big or small, has; this being its human resource.

All businesses’ main goal is to create value through corporate governance, value based management, profitability, aligning strategic goals with managerial goals, planning, operating effectively and developing market niche. A business model hence is the framework that companies adopt to deal with social, psychological, technological, political, economic, and cultural factors to amalgamate their own vision well. This is all there to create competitive advantage which is gaining an edge over one’s competitors. However, when there is a team at work, and that too efficiently, it is said that success comes eventually. (Belenger, Edwards & Wright, 2003).

A team needs to understand what employees want from work; they should show respect for employees at work to them; managers should give comments in the form of constructive criticism and provide feedback that the employees can make use of positively; managers need to show employees that their work is liked when it is. Praise in the form of open regard, open usage of positive adjectives for the employee and his or her work, and even a pat on the back can result in a feeling of motivation inside the employee. Managers and the company can set out proper criteria for performance, which can be then used as a basis of judging and analyzing an employee’s work. Kaiser is one such company in Germany that keeps its employees first. (Greenwood & Randle, 2007);

Since, human resource management forms a consistent standard and allows for transparency in praising standard, and then we can surely say that employee work’s recognition will look and will in actuality be relevant and truthful to the employee (Bacon & Blyton, 2000). Therefore, it is said that human resource managers need to greatly focus on team building, empowerment of employees and other such perspectives in order to increase motivation and productivity thereby. One such set of studies conducted to pay more attention to the widely growing field included the Hawthorne studies.

Hawthorne studies

The Hawthorne studies were studies that were done in the 1920s by the Western Electric Company. These were done at the company’s own plant, known as the Hawthorne Plant, where the study derived its name from. The experimenters wanted to test the effect of light on worker productivity. They during the studies’ episodes would lighten or brighten the lights at the plant while the workers worked. During these fluctuations in the control variable – light, the experimenters noted down several behavioral changes that occurred in the workers’ productivity and the way they worked. However it was much later that it was found that there was in real the presence of two kinds of effects that were true to the study. These were ‘the experimenter effect’ and the ‘social effect’ (Robbins et al., 2008).

The study hence showed that with the experimenter effect taking place because of adjusting the lighting in the factory, workers actually thought that their management cared for them. They perceived the changes in lighting and observation studies right after that as a notion of being looked after and therefore, that made those workers feel good about themselves. Resultantly, productivity of those workers increased and it led to good morale (Robbins et al., 2008).

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A group was selected when the study was being carried out by the researchers. This group provided itself as a sample, unknowingly of course. With social effect it was seen that since this group was ‘distinguished’ from rest of the workers, they felt as if they were being given special treatment by the observers. This feeling of being treated in a ‘special manner’, led the employees and or workers to believe that they shared a good relationship with the management and their supervisors. This, again increased their motivation levels, since they felt more connected to the organization, which again resulted into increased productivity levels in that group of workers (Robbins et al., 2008).

From the Hawthorne studies derived the Hawthorne effect whereby it was used as an explanation to what came out to be as positive effects whenever a work process receives intervening. The study itself discovered behavioral changes occurring in employees and or workers as they were observed during work hours. The study hence found that when employees are observed or when they feel that they are looked after or cared for, they feel more motivated for work. They feel a sense of belonging to the company and workplace that they work for which results into an increased productivity level in them. (Wickstrom, & Bendix, 2000)

In social literature, we see the presence of terms like the ‘placebo effect’, which can be used in correlation with the Hawthorne effect. Hence, we learn that with the help of Hawthorne studies, we learnt important psychological and social variables pertaining to workers, and how they have an effect on the organization that they work for. (Wickstrom & Bendix, 2000).

There were prominently three factors defined by the Hawthorne experiments which boasted that they bring about changes in the productivity of the workers. They are as stated below:

  • Rest periods
  • Learning
  • Work pay

This point faced few criticisms. Theorists said that these factors were not the sole reason of employee effective performance or productivity. Whereas according to Parson, the warm welcome and regard from the observers as well as attention is not the reason workers perform well. However it is the incentives that they are provided make the difference. He says that increase in the incentives, increment in rewards and change in feedback on the performance of the workers is the main reason why workers are motivated to concentrate on their job. He also states that the process of learning affects the procedure of the improvement of the workers’ skills and it is also the feedback that encourages the workers to meet the desired goals of any particular organization.

Mayo presented his theory after examining and studying an electrical company and observed how change in the physical factors can bring a change in the performance of people. He came to the conclusion that it was not the physical or environmental change that boosted the performance. On the contrary, it depends on the following factors:

  • Working in a team with a competitive boss.
  • Improved communication
  • Interest should be known in the employees

Two aspects of this entire study were observed. The workers were very satisfied and welcomed this new notion. Whereas on the other hand, the organizations were a little hesitant and reluctant in accepting this new approach, since by accepting this concept, they would have to give incentives and more regard to the workers. (Haslam, 2004)

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Norms at the workplace

This part of the paper talks about norms at the workplace and the importance that they have attached to their roles in organizations. Norms are those set of policies that are believed by a group of people when they do something together or similarly, or when they are connected to the same point altogether (Hammer, 2004). Norms at the workplace tell individuals working there how to behave and how to think. Norms at a workplace could revolve around the following pointers and are believed to be mandatory on all employees or people whom they cover. They sometimes are written, however most often these are rules that are deeply ingrained in a company’s culture and hence are implicitly defined. These could revolve around (Hammer, 2004):

  • Attendance
  • Smoking / Drinking policies
  • Punctuality
  • Cleanliness
  • Discipline
  • Social Relations
  • Commitment to the company or workplace
  • Individual Relations
  • Work Performance
  • Attire: For example completely formal or business casual etc.
  • Norms about employees’ religious practices and events
  • Leaves: Health etc. (Hammer, 2004)

Norms play a very important role in defining the work ethics in an organization. Norms are always needed in an organization as part of its culture (and they can be hence explicitly or implicitly defined, depending upon again the organization’s culture and norms). Social norms and work norms both go hand in hand when we talk about their roles and importance (Stutzor & Lalive, 2004). Norms at the workplace even show an effect on economic conditions, this can be suggested by the fact that if a norm is very strong then the process of getting a new job by a person who is unemployed will be much faster. There can hence in accordance with economics and utility differences, be pressures belonging to the social nature that result in this behavior. People who are unemployed are less happy than those who are employed, this suggests that their reduction in life satisfaction is when larger, the stronger the norm is (Stutzor & Lalive, 2004).

The most important roles however that norms play have to do with setting standards at the workplace so that a decorum is established and all employees and tasks follow a similar set of actions, rules and policies. This helps in systematically aligning the employees’ behavior with what the culture of the organization is, which eventually results in the company/organization gaining some sort of standardized procedures attached to the way the human resource and systems function and operate there respectively.


  1. Bacon, N. Blyton, and P. (2000) ‘High road and low road team-working: Perceptions of management rationales and organizational and human resource outcomes.’ Human Relations, 53:11 (1425-1458)
  2. Belenger, J., Edwards, P.K. and Wright, M. (2003) ‘Commitment at Work and Independence from Management. A study of advanced teamwork,’ Work and Occupations, 30:2 (234-252)
  3. Greenwood, I. and Randle, H. (2007) ‘Team-working, Restructuring and Skills in the UK and Sweden, European Journal of Industrial Relations, 13(3); 361-377
  4. Hammer, T. (2004) Expanding the Psychosocial Work Environment: Workplace Norms and Work–Family Conflict as Correlates of Stress and Health. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology; Vol. 9, No. 1, 83–97.
  5. Hasslam. S. A. (2004) Psychology in Organizations. Sage Publications
  6. Robbins, S., Judge, TA. Millet, B., Waters-Marsh, T. 2008, Organizational Behavior. 5th Ed, Pearson, Frenchs Forest.
  7. Stutzor, A. and Lalive, R. (2004) The Role of Social Work Norms in Job Searching and Subjective Well-Being. Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(4), pages 696-719, 06
  8. Wickstrom, G., and Bendix, T. (2000) Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health. Vol. 26, n4, pp. 363-367.

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