Using Reinforcement Theory for Employee Motivation
Using Reinforcement Theory for Employee Motivation

Using Reinforcement Theory for Employee Motivation

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  • Pages: 11 (2842 words)
  • Published: September 28, 2017
  • Type: Case Study
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The purpose of this study is to discuss how directors can use Reinforcement theory to determine and reshape employee behaviors in order to overcome obstacles to change. Directors can utilize reinforcement theory to motivate and understand the needs of workers, treating them fairly and increasing motivation through rewards such as increased wages or bonuses to achieve the organization's goals. The main objective of this study is to critically examine reinforcement theory and its various types, exploring how directors apply its basic principles to encourage desired behavior and discourage undesirable behavior by using incentives, assessments, promotions, and assigning more challenging tasks to enhance employee efficiency.

This text provides a comprehensive analysis of reinforcement theory, focusing on B.F. Skinner's support theory and examining its positions and limitations. The study defines reinforcement theory as the process of shaping behavior by reward


ing desired behavior and punishing undesired behavior.

Background and Development of Reinforcement Theory

BF Skinner and his associates introduced the concept of reinforcement theory, also known as operant conditioning. This theory suggests that an individual's behavior is determined by its consequences, based on the "law of effect."

Law of Effect

The Law of Effect, also known as the theory of consequence, is an integral part of OB Mod. It asserts that individuals are inclined to repeat behaviors that result in positive effects and avoid repeating behaviors that lead to negative effects. The reinforcement theory of motivation delves into this concept by examining how individuals interpret the outcomes of their actions. Skinner proposes that organizations should shape their external environment in a way that encourages and rewards employees positively. This theory serves as a framework for understanding and managing

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individual behavior.

However, the text does not primarily discuss the reasons behind individual behavior.

Behavior Modification

Organizational behavior modification, also referred to as OB Mod, utilizes behavior modification principles within organizations. This approach was developed based on the research of B.F. Skinner. OB Mod, in conjunction with various other theories, offers insights into employee motivation and is classified as a process theory of motivation (Newstrom W).

John, p no 111 ) The figure below shows the main steps in OB mod. Beginning: Organizational Behavior: Managing People and Organizations by Ricky W. Griffin, Gregory Moorhead The first step is to identify performance related behavioral events that are the desired and undesired behaviors. A manager of a restaurant may determine that the most important behavior for the waiter is to greet customers warmly and serve them.

The second step in behavior modification is for directors to assess the performance of each individual, typically measured as a percentage over different time periods. For example, if a sales representative is achieving around 25% of the total sales required by the company. The third step is to identify existing behavior scenarios or performance consequences and evaluate how the employee is performing. The fourth step is to create intervention strategies, meaning that some aspect of the performance reward system i?? structure, process, technology, groups, or projects i?? is altered to make high-level performance more rewarding.

After the intervention measure, the director assesses performance again to determine if the desired outcome has been achieved. If not, the director must redesign the intervention scheme or repeat the entire process. The next step is to maintain desirable behaviors through positive reinforcement, such as providing incentives whenever an employee exhibits a

desired behavior. Lastly, directors have to evaluate performance management by assessing how employees are performing and by offering long-term rewards, like salary increases or promotions, to encourage ongoing efforts to improve performance.

Griffin W. Rickey 9th edition, p no 108i??

Types of Support

Reinforcement Methods

  • Positive Support:

Thomas J. Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, emphasizes the importance of organizations celebrating desired behaviors and outcomes among their employees. To achieve this, it is essential to understand the concept of positive support and its seamless integration into your organization. Positive support serves as a valuable evaluation tool applicable in various settings such as workplaces, educational institutions, and even in our daily lives, influencing performance and behavior.

Directors use positive support to encourage desired behavior from employees, which helps maintain organizational success. Positive support entails recognizing and valuing employees, and it has a significant impact on their motivation, satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty. This individual success ultimately contributes to overall improvement in the organization's performance, enabling it to stay ahead in a competitive market. Positive support can be achieved through various means within an organization. These include praising employees for meeting their targets, providing incentives for completing monthly tasks, organizing team dinners to appreciate their efforts, and offering training to those who achieve the organization's goals and objectives. Such actions immediately reinforce positive behavior, creating a connection in the employee's mind between their actions and positive outcomes, thereby motivating them to repeat similar behaviors in the future.

Employees often reiterate the same concept in order to understand it better. Determining is a systematic and progressive application of positive reinforcement that occurs when an employee

receives more frequent or more impactful support as they get closer to exhibiting the desired behavior. Even if the desired behavior is not initially demonstrated by the employee, it can be encouraged by providing support for the behavior in the correct manner. Managers can use determining to train employees for complex tasks and assignments.

  • Negative Support:

Negative support, also known as Avoidance, involves the removal of undesired behavior of an employee. Its purpose is to increase desired behavior by providing the individual with the opportunity to avoid unpleasant consequences instead of receiving a reward for desirable behavior (Griffin W. Rickey 9th edition, p no 108).

This also includes removing unwanted outcomes once desired behavior is demonstrated. An example of common undesired behavior of employees in an organization is:

  • Employees rushing and not thoroughly checking their own work.
  • Talking to colleagues instead of responding to customers promptly, which hinders the organization's growth.
  • Being unpleasant, rude, or argumentative with team members.
  • Opposing all improvement suggestions made by managers.
  • Bringing up trivial issues repeatedly.
  • Taking excessive breaks.
  • Showing no interest in learning new things related to work.

Directors can utilize negative reinforcement theory to control employees' behavior. For example, if an employee shows no interest in their work and displays a careless attitude, directors can communicate with the employee and reduce their incentives as a means to correct the behavior. In this case, incentives act as a catalyst to change the employee's behavior.

Another example is when directors exert pressure on an employee if a report or project is not completed on time. This results

in the employee completing the report or project to avoid pressure from the director.

Negative reinforcement is often mistaken for punishment, but they are not the same. Punishment aims to decrease the likelihood of specific behaviors, while negative reinforcement aims to increase desired behavior.

Negative reinforcement can be effectively utilized by managers to modify employee behavior within the organization and encourage desirable conduct. Therefore, negative reinforcement stands as one of the common methods employed by directors.


Punishment serves as another technique within reinforcement theory that managers can incorporate to decrease the occurrence of undesirable behaviors. Punishment involves administering unpleasant or aversive consequences for specific behaviors. Instances of punishment include verbal or written reprimands, salary reduction, layoffs, loss of privileges, and potentially termination. (Griffin W.)

Rickey 9th edition ) In punishment, the objective is to eliminate unpleasant behavior by implementing a negative event following the employee's behavior, while negative reinforcement is used to enhance desired employee behavior. In penalty, the employee avoids or stops unwanted consequences. Punishment should be utilized as a means to modify employee behavior and provide them with an opportunity to correct their actions. Additionally, allowing unsought behavior to go unpunished may result in significant negative effects. (Griffin W.)

Rickey 9th edition, p no 105i?? ) Example 1: Director must penalize the employee if he continues to underachieve after several warnings and does non demo any betterments. Punishment should be used as a last resort to alter the behaviour of the employee because it may set batch of force per unit area and emphasis which may ensue in unpredictable result. Punishment may non permanently extinguish unsought behaviour because sometimes it will be non holding an option to

the desired behaviour.


Extinction is referred as riddance of coveted behaviour when manageri??s hold back positive support. If wagess are withdrawn for behaviours that were antecedently reinforced, the behaviours will likely go less frequent and die out. ( Griffin W.

According to Rickey 9th edition (p. 105i), when an employee's behavior is no longer reinforced, it becomes less likely to occur in the future, which can have a negative impact on the organization's growth. Positive support, on the other hand, contributes to overall organization growth. However, extinction of desired behaviors can hinder growth by not acknowledging employee performance. For example, if an employee is consistently praised for their promptness in completing work for several months but then receives no recognition in subsequent months for the same behavior, their desirable behaviors may decrease. Therefore, extinction is a crucial aspect of support theory because it can affect employee productivity and creativity, which ultimately reflects in their overall performance. To avoid unwanted extinction, managers need to continue offering positive reinforcement and maintaining good performance. If managers unintentionally or intentionally stop rewarding valuable behaviors such as good performance, those behaviors may also become extinct (Griffin W.).

Rickey 9th edition, p no 105i?? )

Agendas of Support

The theory of agendas of support is based on the idea that directors should use different types of support to determine or reshape the behavior of employees. The type of support used depends on the specific circumstances. The table below provides a summary of the five basic support agendas that directors can use. Source: Organizational Behavior: Managing People and Organizations by Ricky W. Griffin, Gregory Moorhead. The two main types of support

agendas are continuous and intermittent.

While support often depends on practical considerations, it is always delivered according to a schedule (Slocump W. John no 108).

Continuous Support

Continuous support rewards behavior every time it occurs. Continuous support is highly effective in motivating desirable behaviors, especially in the early stages of learning when the goal is to familiarize the employee being conditioned with the basic ground rules of the situation.

In order for work to be effective, continuous support must be provided quickly and systematically. Directors must closely monitor employee behavior in order to acknowledge and encourage desired behaviors. If only partial support is given, it may prevent the employee from demonstrating the desired behavior. For example, if an employee is praised for completing a task but receives no recognition for subsequent tasks, they may stop putting in extra effort. Continuous support strengthens behavior each time it is applied, leading to rapid increases in behavior rates. This type of support is particularly useful when trying to establish new behaviors or behavior chains.

(Chance Paul, p no 177)

Fixed Interval Reinforcement

Fixed interval support refers to a support system where rewards are given at consistent time intervals. The time variable remains constant. This is the most common schedule for salaried employees. Examples of fixed interval support include monthly wages, weekly paychecks, or other rewards given on a fixed schedule. ( i??Robbins, Judge, Millet, p no 59i?? ) In fixed interval support, employees do not receive rewards every time they exhibit desired behavior. Instead, rewards are given on a monthly or weekly basis, unlike continuous support where rewards are given every time the desired behavior occurs.

The fixed interval

schedule may not always maintain high performance levels. For instance, if employees know they will be paid and visited by a manager once a week, they may work hard during that time to receive praise and recognition. However, on other days of the week, their motivation may decrease because they have learned support is unlikely outside of the weekly visit.

Variable Interval Reinforcement

Variable reinforcement uses time as the basis for applying reinforcement but varies the interval between reinforcement. While it may not be suitable for paying rewards, it can effectively be used for other types of positive reinforcement such as praise and recognition or avoidance.

According to Griffin W. Ricky, 9th Edition, on page 105, if a manager visits employees' work stations at any time during the week, the employees will not know when the manager will be visiting, which will motivate them to work hard for a longer period of time.

Fixed Ratio

In a fixed-ratio schedule, a reward is initiated after a fixed or constant number of responses are given (Robbins, Judge, Millet). With fixed-ratio support, the number of behaviors needed to obtain support remains constant.

Fixed interval refers to something that occurs consistently and at the same pace, similar to receiving a regular allowance on the 20th of each month.

Variable Ratio

Variable Ratio support involves varying the number of desired behaviors over time. An employee following a variable ratio schedule is motivated to work hard because each successful behavior increases the likelihood of receiving reinforcement.14

(Griffin W. Ricky, 9th Edition, p no 106) Variable ratio support is the most powerful form of full support because it does not require a specific amount of desired behavior, but rather emphasizes

the importance of intervals between support. It is crucial that these intervals do not become too long, as this can demotivate employees and cause them to stop seeking support. For example, variable ratio support can be observed in someone who is paid through commissions. The more cars they sell, the more money they earn, creating a ratio where the exact number of cars they will sell is uncertain. Therefore, they must strive to sell as many cars as possible.

Becoming a Motivating Manager

In previous chapters, we have discussed the various types and purposes of support. In this chapter, we will cover how a manager should motivate their employees in order to achieve the best results.

Treating staff well

The manager must maintain a friendly relationship with all employees in the organization while also maintaining a certain level of distance. This can be complicated. The manager should motivate employees through timely discussions and group meetings, as well as by rewarding desired behavior. These small gestures help to build a friendly relationship.

Acknowledging differences

Acknowledging differences among employees is challenging for managers and must be done carefully. Each employee in the organization has their own pace, so motivating one employee may affect the growth and motivation of another employee. Understanding and acknowledging these individual differences is crucial.

Set realistic goals

When setting goals, it is important to set realistic and achievable ones. Setting overly high goals can create a sense of failure right from the beginning. The goals should be challenging but still manageable for the employees to achieve. Setting slightly higher targets

than expected can provide a sense of challenge.

Prevent demonization

The manager's role is to motivate and discipline employees. While discipline is necessary to change employee behavior, it should be used as a last resort. Excessive punishment can negatively affect employee productivity.

Non-financial wages

In addition to providing incentives and wage increases, directors should also focus on non-monetary rewards such as achievement awards or letters of recognition. These rewards can enhance the efficiency of staff members and motivate them to work harder and earn more awards in the future. This creates a competitive environment in the workplace.


Reinforcement theory provides a detailed explanation of how individuals learn behavior. When it comes to motivating employees, directors should not reward all employees simultaneously. Instead, they should communicate to employees what they are doing wrong and guide them properly to ensure that all employees work towards achieving organizational success.

Support theory aims to ensure that employees complete their assigned tasks quickly, take on new tasks, and put forth maximum effort to increase efficiency. Managers should view employees as individuals rather than just business resources, and provide opportunities for employees to transition from undesired behaviors to desired behaviors. This benefits both the employee, as it increases the frequency of desired behaviors, and the managers, as it fosters success and a positive relationship with the employees.

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