Industrial psychologists have sought to explore and understand the influence of employee behavior on performance. Organizational theories advanced explanation of employee perceptions, attitudes, motivation and behavior. They seek to find those behaviors that negatively or positively influence employee performance.
Employee Behavior and Performance Nexus
What has been established beyond a shadow of doubt is the connection between behavior and performance. Various theories have come in to find which behaviors drive performance and which ones stifle it. Other theories have gone further to find the conditions under which certain behaviors negatively and positively impact performance. These influencing factors, conditions and behaviors form a critical set of management knowledge and competences for effective management.
Evidence from Studies
In the 1930s, Industrial Psychologist, Elton Mayo conducted experiments at the Western Electric’s Hawthorne Plant. The experiments which have come to be known as the Hawthorne Studies, observed worker productivity under different illumination conditions. The results of these studies form the foundation of many organizational theories put across to explain employee behavior.
The Hawthorne Studies set out to establish whether different levels of light in a work environment affected employee productivity. The studies involved collaborative enquiry that included interviews and discussions with workers, progress monitoring and employee engagement. Employee performance increased when lighting was increased, lowered or maintained as before. Elton Mayo concluded that the workers increased productivity not as a response to changes in lighting. The workers modified their behavior when watched and monitored. He further attributed the increased productivity to attention and recognition given to the workers under observation.
Positive Influence of Behavior on Performance
The investigation initially investigated the physical environment for determinants to performance. The surprising results however located the determinants of performance in the work social environment. These findings became basis for modern motivation theories and practice. For example, management practice incorporate like employee engagement, employee recognition, employee performance monitoring, team building among other practices.
Hawthorne Effect and Micromanagement
The unintended results of the Hawthorne Studies of subjects modifying behavior when under observation, are known as the Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect at face value seem to provide justification for micromanagement. In the Hawthorne Studies, the workers increased productivity because they were being watched. The observation effect motivated workers to increase output, justifying micromanager belief that employees work only under direct supervision. The Hawthorne Effect may seem to provide justification for micromanagement, the practice however remains a simplistic and unsustainable tool for managing motivation. Aaron Haynes, (2009) cites negative effects of micromanaging including killing creativity, motivation, trust, self-belief, skills growth, performance and productivity. Motion 71, (2017) suggests that monitoring employees can be good for productivity with simple tasks and bad for complex ones.
The Hawthorne Effect can however be applied in a non-intrusive manner with benefit. For example, team leaders working together with their teams, team monitoring visits, use of coaching and mentoring among other tools. Notable application of Hawthorne Effect for performance improvement are:
- Meaningful employee engagement
- Worker recognition
- Performance monitoring
- Team building
- Coaching and mentoring