The Law of Unintended Consequences / The Hawthorne Effect

By Michael Catanzaro, FAHE, MREH, CLLM, CHESP

December 17th, 2018 | Formats: Article | Content Areas: Administration | Tags: Leadership, Management

The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people — and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it, by Rob Norton.

The Hawthorne effect is named after what was one of the most famous experiments (or, more accurately, series of experiments) in industrial history. It marked a sea change in thinking about work and productivity. Previous studies, in particular Frederick Taylor's influential ideas, had focused on the individual and on ways in which an individual's performance could be improved. Hawthorne set the individual in a social context, establishing that the performance of employees is influenced by their surroundings and by the people that they are working with as much as by their own innate abilities.

In this article, Michael Catanzaro details how unintended consequences caused by the application of the Hawthorne Effect impacted an environmental services department.

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