The reinforcement theory proposed by BF Skinner and associates, states that an individual’s behavior is a function of its consequences. Hence, by controlling what happens after a behavior is exhibited in the workplace, you are able to determine if that behavior continues or stops. Reinforcement can be positive and negative and it can also be constant or intermittent. This article seeks to speak only on making a choice between positive and negative reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement involves provision of a desirable item or condition as reward for exhibition of the desired behavior. For instance, if the desired behavior you hope to reinforce is exceeding targets every month by 20%, giving a bonus to any employee who achieves this, is a way of positively reinforcing it.
Negative reinforcement involves removal of an undesirable item or condition as a reward for exhibition of a desired behavior. For instance, reducing the number of required hours an employee has to work daily (i.e. saying they can go home early) is an example of negative reinforcement.
The reinforcement theory is important in management because it provides a way to control the productivity of your employee thereby controlling the productivity of your business organization and invariably controlling your profits and your losses.
Positive and negative reinforcement can be used concurrently and intermittently as management strategies in business organizations. It is is important that you choose the method that will be most beneficial to you and is least likely to end in a waste of resources. Some important factors to consider include:
#1. The Nature of your employees
As an employer or a manager of a business organization, most especially a small/growing business organization, becoming familiar with the nature of your employees is a must. Deciding which strategy is best for you is also dependent on the nature of your employees and what type of reinforcement they are more likely to respond to.
#2. What is available
Because you need different resources, for positive and negative reinforcement, the availability of resources is also one thing you have to take into consideration before choosing a reinforcement strategy.
How long you are willing to keep reinforcing a certain trait or behavior in your employees is another important factor you will need to consider. For instance, negative reinforcement is usually easier over short periods of time while positive reinforcement is comparatively easier to use over a relatively long period of time.
Depending on how they are used, removal of both positive and negative reinforcement can lead to extinction. Extinction is the weakening or disappearance of the desired behavior, which can occur when reinforcement is stopped. One good way to determine which reinforcement strategy is best for your organization or for any situation, is to try it out for a short period of time.