Positive reinforcement is"any pleasant or desirable consequences that follows a response and increases the possibility that the response will be repeated" (Wood& Boyd, 2005). This technique is used to stimulate and to strengthen new behaviors by offering rewards and incentives, as opposed to eliminating them.
Positive reinforcement thereby uses the reward system, which is a collection of brain structures attempting to monitor and control behavior by bringing about pleasurable effects. Rewards can be most useful in the workplace through monetary bonuses, promotions, praise, paid holiday leave, and simple attention. Giving rewards, by themselves, to employees may not result in the desired effect or behavior, but the reward must persuade the person to enact the desired behavior to be considereda positive reinforcement. The reinforcement should therefore be highly motivating to the individual. In the workplace, for example, a paycheck or a performance bonus can be a high motivation factor for many people, but not necessarily all.
B.F. Skinner was the first to introduce people to positive reinforcement by conducting experiments on animals. The most famous of these is his rat experiment where Skinner designed a box with a lever inside that released food when pressed. To see how a rat would discover how to get to the food, he placed a hungry rat into the box. At first, the rat fumbled around until it hit the lever by mistake and the food was released. Aftermany trials, the rat learned to go directlyto the lever andrelease the food when it was hungry. Skinner tested positive reinforcement in this manner and concluded it does indeed produce desired behaviors (McLeod, 2007).
Although a human mind is much more intelligent than a rat’s, positive reinforcement in a work environment can work in much the same way to motivate employees. These methods are discussed below.
Using positive reinforcement in the workplace can give an employee a better sense of self-worth, making him or her feel good about their work performance. This effect can be important in areas like performance evaluations where a need for improvement has previously been pointed out. In this way, positive reinforcement allows the employee to acknowledge their progress and lets them know that management also recognizes their efforts. Moreover, this tool can help the employee toease any self-doubts they may have about their ability to perform well and serve as a boost to their confidence.
Promoting Good Behavior
When employees feel good about their work, they are more likely to behave well at the workplace. In this regard, positive reinforcement increases the chances employees will enact desired behaviorsin the future. When workers arefrequently praised or encouraged for their good performance, they are more likely to continue it. For instance, if an employee that is habitually tardy receives recognition for arriving at work early, they may continue this pattern when they receive continued positive feedback from their supervisor.
Boosting Workplace Morale
The effects of positive reinforcement continue to build on each other, from encouraging individual self-worth and good behavior to actually improving the culture, attitudes and morale in the workplace. Therefore, letting workers know that their efforts are appreciatedby incentives or recognition can foster a more positive work atmosphere. These employees are not only likely to be happier and more productive at their job, but they may also be more willing to help other overworked or struggling colleagues. This effect is especially valuable in work environments where cooperation and teamwork arecrucial to finishing a project, or when employees work in close proximity to each other.
Learning to Fit In
New employees areoften concerned about fitting in with the company culture and whether they demonstrate the ability required for their job. By using positive reinforcement early on in the training or orientation process, managers can reduce these concerns and help employees relax, feeling more confident the value of their contribution to the company. The technique can also encourage employees to feel more comfortable engaging others with questions or expressing concerns when they note them.
Positive reinforcement is an instrument used by managers to increase desired behaviors fromemployees. In today’s workplace, performance and effectiveness are emphasized a great deal. It is therefore important to understand and utilize these concepts when motivating staff. Given the direct impact on worker morale, positive reinforcement is regarded as the most effective way of encouraging staff to perform better within organizations. Employees are motivated to do better under positive reinforcement because they know when each desired behavior is shown, they will be rewarded. These rewards can be a bonus based on performance, additional worker benefits, or simple verbal encouragement and empowerment. Overall, employees feel satisfied when their work is recognized and this effect has the greatest positive impact on their performance in the future.