Hawthorne Effect or Micromanagement or Helicopter Parenting

When the researcher conducts an intervention study (vs. observation study), the Hawthorne effect comes as an aspect to pay attention to. The phenomena describe the relationship between people’s awareness of being observed and their behavioral and productivity change – “subjects are always liable to modify behavior when they are aware that they are part of an experiment” (Shuttleworth, 2009, para. 8).

Today the scientific community debates about the relevance of the Hawthorne effect. For instance, Wickström and Bendix consider the phenomena a “placebo effect” as “the experiment […] at the Hawthorne plant may have born little relation to the experiment which was performed because of the additional variables introduced through lack of experimental rigor.” (Wickström, Bendix, 2000, 364). Many factors were missed in the experiment, such:
“(i) relief from harsh supervision,
(ii) receiving positive attention,
(iii) learning new ways of interaction,
(iv) possibilities to influence work procedures,
(v) rest pauses,
(vi) higher income,
or (vii) threat of losing one’s job.” ((Wickström, Bendix, 2000, 366), but not the Hawthorne effect itself.
On the other hand, Shuttleworth defines the Hawthorne effect as “unavoidable bias” that the researchers should not neglect (Shuttleworth, 2009, para. 7).
Perhaps, the truth lies in between – mind the effect but do not entirely rely on it.

Furthermore, the Hawthorne effect has three obvious scenarios:
– people feel chosen, the positive feedback increases their productivity;
– control group tries to give results the observer expects (demand effect);
– an employee is stressed for being observed (Practical Psychology, 2021).
In a business, such development reminds me of Micromanagement – the control of almost everything in detail. Another example in psychology might relate to helicopter parenting.

What should we do to avoid this behavior? The first step is to learn to trust and delegate.
By moving forward, it proves helpful to:
a) accept that we learn from mistakes;
b) focus on the result and let the freedom to lead the process the employee’s way;
c) give constructive feedback;
d) remember the 20:80 rule – spend 20% on management to get 80% of the result (Geropp, 2019).
The last rule might correlate with the Hawthorne effect for balancing an effort and result. Thus, 20% delicate but precise management’s attention (vs. 80 % hovering around) makes an employee feel chosen (vs. untrusted).

To sum up, the relationship between the Hawthorne effect and Micromanagement is an illustrative example of how such disciplines as psychology, business, and social science come along, intertwine, and complement each other nowadays.


Bernd Geropp (2019, September 8). Micromanagement: 7 signs which show if you are a micromanager! [Video]. Youtube.

Practical Psychology (2021, February 6). The Hawthorne Effect (Definition + Examples) [Video]. Youtube.

Shuttleworth, M. (2009, October 10). Hawthorne Effect. Explorable.

Wickström, G., & Bendix, T. (2000). The “Hawthorne effect” — what did the original Hawthorne studies actually show? Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 26(4), 363–367.

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