Positive reinforcement is one of 4 kinds of operant conditioning, also known as instrumental conditioning – a form of behavioral psychology popularized by B.F. Skinner. In theory, operant conditioning is essentially a method of strategic reward and punishment to shape future behavior. The term “conditioning” itself can be alienating to many people, but in practice positive reinforcement is a system of validation that’s meaningful to people on the receiving end.
What does Positive Reinforcement look like at work?
Managers using a positive reinforcement strategy should leverage rewards that are meaningful to their employees within the realm of the workplace and relate to the magnitude of an employee’s accomplishment. In a 2020 study, Officevibe found that 82% of employees would prefer praise to a gift to acknowledge good performance.
This means that day to day good work should warrant something as simple yet effective as verbal praise, such as a kudos during team meetings. Bigger accomplishments such as scoring a new client can merit a bonus or even a raise. A big part of deciding the best reward is assessing the magnitude of the action or work that’s being rewarded.
When using positive reinforcement, specifically convey to an employee what they’ve done to impress you. General statements won’t necessarily guide someone on what exactly to keep up going forward.
In an environment where an employee’s success is recognized, even other people will feel encouraged to work harder. Studies show that an increase in employee happiness as a result of acknowledgement and appreciation produces a 37% increase in sales, 31% increase in productivity, and 19% increase in accuracy.
This strategy can help build a healthy and safe work environment. It can also improve employee trust in their leaders, increasing job satisfaction and employee morale.
Positive reinforcement motivates employees to continually grow to be better while also offering a clear distinction of good habits and practices that should be retained.
Motivated teams are powered by engaged employees. When employees are not confident, happy, or valued at work they are inevitably less driven. A Gallup study finds that 51% of employees are not engaged, and of those unengaged employees, 3 of 10 had not received praise or recognition for their work.
Favouritism is a potential negative outcome of a positive reinforcement tactic. It’s crucial that management looks at their team equally when assessing rewards. If positive reinforcement turns into favouritism, the positive environment can quickly deteriorate into discouraging and uninspiring. Employees who don’t feel appreciated are 2 times as likely to quit compared to others whose importance is validated.
What about negative reinforcement?
In the work environment reward goes a lot further than punishment. Negative reinforcement can minimize engagement and make some employees feel alienated or underappreciated, potentially leading to turnover.
When someone is not preforming at the expected calibre, positive reinforcement can be used to show that employee that you appreciate what they’re doing well, while also addressing problems. If you praise what you appreciate or value in their position it softens the blow of an issue and helps encourage that person to want to rectify the situation to be more of a value going forward.
To be effective in driving motivation within a team, positive reinforcement should be consistent and build momentum. If the reward system is something that comes and go, the effects will fall short, leaving employees less than encouraged.