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3/1/2004 | 5 MINUTE READ

Treat Them Like Individuals

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In 1927, the Western Electric Company conducted what it thought would prove a routine experiment.


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In 1927, the Western Electric Company conducted what it thought would prove a routine experiment. The startling results of that deceptively simple test revolutionized supervisory thinking. Their scheme can still be heard in any room where company policy affecting employees is being hammered out.

The experiment? Engineers at Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant in Chicago wanted to see if improvements in lighting would bring about an increase in production.

Two groups of workers were selected for observation. One group worked under the same illumination at all times; the second group worked under different, experimental lighting conditions. As expected, production rose as brightness of illumination increased. Nothing spectacular about that.

But what was not expected, what had the researchers scratching their heads in bewilderment was this: production of the group working under the old lighting conditions also rose!

Something was wrong. The group working under standard illumination was supposed to serve as a norm with which the other group could be compared. In the language of psychology, it was the “control.” Yet, here was the control—out of control!

The engineers ran additional tests. This time, they reversed the procedure. Instead of increasing the amount of available light, they decreased it. From ten-foot candles they dropped it to nine. Then eight. Then seven.

Production didn’t fall off!

They reduced the light further.

Production still didn’t fall off!

When they reached three-foot candles, workers complained about the light and the experiments were discontinued. But two volunteers continued to function under the ever-decreasing light. At 0.06-foot candles of light—the equivalent of ordinary moonlight—they maintained their customary efficiency. They reported feeling less tired at the end of a day’s work than before the experiments began and said that they experienced no eyestrain whatsoever.

Was something wrong?

No. As it turned out, something was very right.

After innumerable repetitions and endless rechecking, only one conclusion was possible. Simply by conducting the experiment, the company had shown the workers how important it considered each of them. By watching them, asking them questions, measuring their performance and generally fussing over them, Western Electric made its employees feel like individuals instead of mere cogs in an industrial machine.

The moral for supervisors is crystal clear. People work better and with far more enthusiasm when they have the feeling that someone is taking an interest in them.

Selling Safety to Your People

More than 1.5 million disabling injuries were suffered in American industry in 2001, according to estimates compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These included 670,000 cases involving sprains, strains and tears; 373,000 cases involving back injuries and 288,000 involving falls.

Many business people underestimate the cost of an accident. Where they carry insurance, they are likely to think of the cost as the price of insurance premiums only. Where they pay worker compensation and medical expenses directly, they think only of those costs.

Yet, in reality, for every dollar of direct costs that you pay for compensation and medical expenses, you must absorb four additional dollars of indirect costs. There is, for example, the lost time of the injured employee; the time lost by fellow workers who stop work out of curiosity and sympathy; damage to the injured worker’s machine, equipment or material and legal and court fees in cases contested by law, to name but a few.

The solution is obvious: prevent accidents in the first place. But how?

By adopting a safety program. But the trouble with most safety programs is that they are half-hearted affairs, sandwiched between lunch hours and fire drills. To be effective, safety must be “sold” to employees. This means overcoming apathy, disinterest and inertia in your people.

Here are some tested ways to keep up the interest of your people in safety.

Hold safety campaigns and contests. Offer a prize for the best safety slogan, for example.

Offer first aid training courses. A certificate upon completion is a good idea, for it represents tangible proof of accomplishment.

Offer safety training courses to key personnel. They set the example for others.

Form plant fire fighting units. And be sure you have the proper equipment correctly located and maintained.

Rotate workers on a safety inspection committee so that they are all exposed to safety consciousness.

Provide outside safety lecturers and motion pictures. The modest cost involved can save itself many times over. A library shelf of safety books and pamphlets prepared by authorities on safe practices often proves popular.

Occasional payroll inserts will help to remind employees about safe practices.

Set up a safety suggestion system, complete with awards for adopted ideas. It can prove to be a gold mine of constructive thinking and give employees the feeling that they are in on things. Awards for accepted suggestions, of course, should be in direct proportion to their value.

Selling safety to your people is not really all that difficult. It boils down to showing them, with every means at your disposal, that you care about their welfare. As soon as you do that, they’ll care, too.

Deadlines Can Sell Ideas

Whether you are trying to make a sale, change someone’s mind or convince a committee, don’t overlook the power of introducing a time element into your presentation.

No one likes to miss an opportunity. If you can show the other person that your proposition must be seized immediately in order to realize maximum benefits from it, the recipient will tend to dismiss minor reservations that are preventing acceptance of your idea or proposition. Perhaps timing is crucial to the success of your idea. Maybe the cost of certain equipment is due to rise soon. Whatever the “deadlines” inherent in your idea, take this opportunity to inventory them. Here is a checklist of possible reasons why your prospect should decide in your favor now:

[] Impending shortages of certain materials
[] Imminent price rise
[] Seasonal considerations
[] Length of lead time required
[] Immediate tax advantages
[] Loss of savings (profits) through procrastination
[] Availability of manpower
[] Especially favorable delivery schedules
[] Strong market demand
[] Competitive considerations

A Quick Exercise In Self-Esteem

Self-doubt afflicts most people at one time or another, but if you let it get the upper hand, it can paralyze initiative and sink a career before it gets off the ground. Next time you feel your self-confidence waning, answer these questions:

What failure did you overcome and turn into a success?

What was the proudest moment of your life?

What was the toughest job you ever undertook in which you succeeded against all odds?

How did you manage to stick to it when things looked bleakest?

What was the greatest compliment anybody ever paid you?

See? You’re quite a guy (or gal)!