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Evan Davis on... the Hawthorne effect

Updated Friday 20th November 2009

Can designer chairs and table football make employees more productive? Evan Davis from The Bottom Line talks about the Hawthorne effect in the office.

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Evan Davis

A great deal of effort goes into making offices nice places to work.  Professional minds go into designing the office, to providing artwork, to the interior decor, all those kinds of things to make an office a productive and happy environment.  Now there have been various fads you can observe in the history of office design.  We've gone from corridors with offices in, to well-lit open plan areas, to places with sofas, couches, to the funky offices with beanbags and table football, and maybe all of these are better or worse than the other.  But in truth what people really want in their office is a sign that somebody’s paying attention to them.

So it might well be that every time we have a new fad or a new trend in office design, everybody says it works simply because everybody’s very happy when the office looks as though attention’s been paid to it.  Which reminds me of course of those old things called hawthorn effects, which more or less come down to the observation that if you turn the light up a little bit, people work harder, if you turn the light up a bit more, they work harder, if you turn it up a little bit more, they carry on working harder, and then if you turn it down, they work a bit harder.  Every time you do something that changes the environment, that makes people feel you're paying attention to them, they respond by working harder.  Then the effect of course wears off until the next time you turn the light up or the light down, or until the next time you redecorate the office or engage in the latest fad for office design.

So we’ll always be discussing what works and what doesn’t work, but maybe what works is that we just keep discussing it and keep changing the paint. 

That’s my opinion; you can join the debate with the Open University.

(1’48”)

 

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