In the 1920s, Hawthorne Works (an electrical company) commissioned a four-year study to increase productivity by varying the working environment. Researchers theorized that brighter lighting would enhance performance, so they created three groups: one group got new, brighter bulbs; another group got dimmer bulbs; a third group got new bulbs with the same wattage as the previous one.
A surprising thing happened: all of the groups improved.
Similarly, at an assembly plant, workers were invited to participate in a long-term experiment altering variables in their day, such as changing the length of break times, the number of breaks allowed, providing food during breaks and changing the length of the work day. Each time a variable shifted, performance improved – even if the change meant reverting back to the original conditions.
The results have been interpreted in many ways; an early hypothesis was that the novelty of being a research subject motivated employees to perform better, another view was that the employees worked harder because they knew they were being watched. Human motivation is a hard thing to interpret. No one can say for sure if employee performance improved because of novelty, renewed motivation, increased awareness or something else entirely – but one thing is clear: we thrive when we are challenged and we begin to flounder when things stagnate.
So, if you are noticing a lull in motivation or performance in your workplace, try switching things up: change your routine and add some variety to your work day – even small variations can lead to noticeable shifts!