The Hawthorne Effect

How many times have you heard some derivative of the following sentence?

“This call may be recorded for quality assurance.”

This is done in order to ensure the proper execution and conduct of interviews.
Now that calls can be digitized, compressed, and stored on a hard drive, it can even be used to search for anger in callers’ or agents’ voices by examining the pitch, speed, and other criteria, much as a lie detector would. (source: Fast Company)

For agents, there may be another effect that each of being monitored that is an effect to which each of us are susceptible – The Hawthorne Effect. Here is how Wikipedia sums it up.

The Hawthorne effect (also referred to as the observer effect) is a type of reactivity in which individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. The original research at the Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois, on lighting changes and work structure changes such as working hours and break times was originally interpreted by Elton Mayo and others to mean that paying attention to overall worker needs would improve productivity. Later interpretations such as that done by Landsberger suggested that the novelty of being research subjects and the increased attention from such could lead to temporary increases in workers’ productivity. This interpretation was dubbed “the Hawthorne effect”.

While other interpretations and criticisms of this effect have been made, there is no doubt our performance tends to improve, even if only temporarily, when we know we are being watched, and so does that of those we supervise.

Our challenge, with regards to the Hawthorne Effect is two-fold. First, how can we be creative and respectful with the level of observation and accountability we provide (and subject ourselves to). Secondly, our challenge is to remember that character is what we do when no one other than our Real Boss is watching.


Rick Burris


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