Schedules Of Reinforcement And Employee Behavior

Reinforcement is important in management and in business organizations as a whole, because it helps you establish more control. Just as the type of reinforcement (i.e. positive or negative reinforcement) you choose at any point in time is important, the schedule of reinforcement is also very important. Schedules of reinforcement are grouped broadly into continuous and intermittent reinforcement.

Continuous reinforcement

This schedule is the most commonly used reinforcement schedule. It is most useful and effective for shaping an employee’s behavior when they begin or are assigned to a new task. In this schedule, the target behavior always attracts a reward. For instance, when you hire someone newly or transfer them to a new department, rewarding them every time they exceed their target is continuous reinforcement.

Intermittent reinforcement

While continuous reinforcement schedules are more effective for shaping employee’s behavior, the intermittent reinforcement schedule is more effective for maintaining a behavior after it has become habitual for the employee. In this schedule, the target behavior doesn’t always mean a reward is sure because it is aimed at increasing the frequency of the target behavior until it becomes a fixed habit.  There are different forms of intermittent reinforcement schedules and they include:

Fixed ratio schedule

This form of intermittent reinforcement schedule is useful for increasing the performance of your employee. Here, the reward is attached to a fixed number of times that the behavior has to be exhibited. For instance, you only give your employee a bonus when they have exceeded their targets by 20% or you only remove a restriction such as the time they have to sign in if they are able to sell 5 more cars than they are required to in a month.

Variable ratio schedule

This is also useful in increasing performance. In this schedule, the reward is attached to a variable number of times that the behavior has to be exhibited. For instance you give a bonus randomly to employees that exceeded their targets regardless of how much above the target they went. Although the variable ratio reinforcement schedule provides similar results with the fixed ratio reinforcement schedule, it is theorized to make the target behavior more extinction resistant than the former (i.e. it is resistant to weakening  or disappearance especially after the reinforcement is stopped).

Fixed interval schedule

In this form of reinforcement schedule, the reward is attached to a certain time interval. This is the most common schedule used in business organizations. Common examples include giving an employee their salary at the end of every month or giving an employee a bonus for consistency after every 3 months. This reinforcement schedule unfortunately makes the target behavior susceptible to extinction hence it usually can’t be stopped (e.g. if you stop paying an employee every month they would most likely stop working).

Variable interval schedule

This form of reinforcement schedule attaches reward to random time frames. For instance, you could randomly pick a month and reward employees who exceeded their target that month. This reinforcement schedule is useful for increasing the frequency at which the desired behavior is exhibited, and is also resistant to extinction.


The different reinforcement schedules have different uses in any business organization. Continuous reinforcement schedules are most useful for shaping, while the intermittent reinforcement schedule is most useful for maintenance. It is important to remember that you should use the fixed ratio and fixed interval schedules only when they can be supported for a long period of time because, stopping reinforcement would most likely lead to extinction of the desired behavior.


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