Between 1927 and 1932, a series of experiments were conducted by Elton Mayo in the Western Electric Hawthorne Works company in Illinois. 1 Mayo developed these experiments to see how the physical and environmental factors of the workplace, such as lighting and break times, would affect employee motivation.
This was some of the first research performed that looked at human motivation at work. His results were surprising, as he found that no matter which experiments were performed, worker output improved. His conclusion and explanation for this was the simple fact the workers were happy to receive attention from researchers who expressed interest in them. As a result, these experiments, scheduled to last one year, extended to five years to increase the knowledge base about human motivation.
The implication of this research applies to HR and managers even today. It tells us that our retention plans must include training and other activities that make the employee feel valued.