How does Hawthorne effect apply today?

Blocksurvey blog author
May 3, 2023 · 2 mins read

History of Hawthorne Effect

Elton Mayo was an Australian-born sociologist at the Western Electric Company's Hawthorne plant. He conducted an experiment in 1924 among his employees. The aim of this simple experiment was to assess the effect of working conditions/environment on productivity.

He increased the luminosity of the lights for a select few employees in the work area and found that the workers' productivity in that particular area improved. He established the fact that change in luminosity improved productivity.

The experiments lasted until 1932. All these work area improvements were reversed. He assumed the productivity would decrease, but surprisingly no decline in productivity levels was found. Later this finding, Mayo re-established that the change in the physical environment isn't the reason, but the belief of the workers caused it. And that simple belief is 'ATTENTION'. Today, this is called the Hawthorne effect. Today's so-called employee engagement or employee experience is said to have originated from this experiment. Just giving attention to employees has many benefits for organizations.

Interestingly, a belief as small as providing attention to employees is altering the course of organization for good or bad or what we call as 'CULTURE' in companies.

The Big Question

Today, there is definitely a rising need to prove that we are attentive and listening to employees all the time in all the areas. But how can you be attentive and listening without being intrusive or invasive in employees' privacy? Can employee surveys really be anonymous? How can you provide a trust-able space so that employees are their authentic self to speak out without colour? Is there a possibility create a Hawthorne effect with a focus on listening rather than watching?

Online surveys as a vehicle

Today, Surveys are one of the widely used hearing/listening tools to gain insights from the wider population. The organization's pulse is understood using them from time to time. But sadly, surveys have lost trust among employees. Employees feel that they are being watched rather than being heard in the surveys of today. To validate this, a simple search on social channels in Twitter or Reddit using keywords like "anonymous employee surveys" gives you an idea of what's on the ground. There numerous stories of how uncomfortable employees feel in their gut after voicing out. Also stories like how organizations have used surveys to identify disgruntled employees and fired them. And there are many disturbing stories about how organizations are heading towards workplace surveillance in a comprehensive way that could be used for bad.

You can also measure if your employees feel the same as the majority out there. Honestly, we all hate being watched or tracked in surveys. This watching or bad intention has killed the authenticity or genuineness among employees. They are not-authentic in surveys anymore. How sad it is to know that workers don't trust the organizations they work for. That's why the use of an anonymous app like Blind has been used to publicise the views of employees as a community.

Yet we think we can make a difference if we want to. Think about how impactful it would be to regain trust among our employees within the organization in surveys. Think about how better the engagement or experience would be for the employees if we become more listenable in surveys. Think about how we can create a Hawthorne effect by just listening and attentive to them without judgements using surveys. Think about the effect of belief, trust, goodwill and positive vibes that will drive the company forward every day.

Steps to regain trust in employee engagement surveys

1. Communicate the intention behind the survey and how the data will be used. Send warm-up communication to all employees in advance.

2. Don't ask for any personally identifying information. Including department or job roles.

3. Never try to decipher the writing style or try to trace back to the user no matter what the feedback is.

4. Don't enable tracking in surveys. Ensure no cookies, no trackers and no IP address tracking or fingerprints.

5. Don't track response rates or follow up with non-takers in email. It would kill anonymity.

6. Make it optional/voluntary. Don't push aggressively or make it mandatory. Look for quality over quantity.

7. Distribute surveys using QR codes. Deploy them at accessible and convenient places. This enables employees to take surveys on their personal devices by just scanning the QR code. This removes the filter to answer authentically.

8. Don't use it for identifying disgruntled employees. You'll lose your credibility for a long time and it will kill your culture forever. Rather figure out a way how you can make them happy fixing pain points faced by employees.

9. Ensure the results are private and only the intended creator of the survey should see it. Not anyone including the platform provider. Kill the collusion.

10. Communicate the action items and steps to be taken from the results of the survey.

11. Ask workers each time how secure they feel and take feedback from them and continue to iterate to make it a more trustworthy program on an ongoing basis.


The Hawthorne Effect can be created by listening and being attentive to your employees through surveys where the intention is right. Employees feel more like an integral part of your organization/business/company if they have a secure system in place to regularly make their voices heard and you keep listening and attend to them.

Ultimately, working towards creating an environment without these devices, and just human interaction in a more trustworthy manner is the aim that we should aspire for. As Ed Snowden quoted - “Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively are less free”. Let us ensure that the tools we use do not take people's freedom away be it surveys or anything. Remember always to hear them but never watch them.

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blog author description

Vimala Balamurugan

Vimala heads the Content and SEO Team at BlockSurvey. She is the curator of all the content that BlockSurvey puts out into the public domain. Blogging, music, and exploring new places around is how she spends most of her leisure time.


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