The most compelling motivation happens when you praise (and reward) your employees for doing a stellar job.  Recognizing individuals and teams for a job well done serves three purposes - it drives employee motivation, works as positive reinforcement, and improves the overall employee experience.

What is positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is a psychological phrase that involves recognizing and rewarding desirable actions to encourage employees to keep performing those actions.

employee asking - shouldn't everyday be employee appreciation day

With suitable types of positive reinforcement, organizations can create a work environment where employees survive and thrive, which leads to tangible benefits in the form of increased productivity and positivity.

The science behind positive reinforcement

The notion of the concept first came about from the behavioral school of psychology and is based on B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning in the early 20th century. He created a “Skinner box” where he objectively recorded a rat’s behavior in a specific time frame.

The animal was rewarded for indulging in certain behaviors, such as lever pressing (a positive action that would give the rat a pellet to nibble on).

This theory focuses on two types of behavioral reinforcement, positive and negative. Positive reinforcement as a reward for a specific action will lead to repetition. In contrast, the absence of such reinforcement means that the behavior is less likely to be repeated regularly.

Types of reinforcement at the workplace

Today, elementary psychology defines four types of reinforcement at the workplace. They include:

➡ Positive reinforcement: Giving something beneficial, like a reward or recognition to employees, to induce the desired behavior.

Negative reinforcement: This involves including an adverse circumstance to induce the desired behavior.

Motivation: Employee appreciation and recognition, opportunities for personal and professional growth, responsibilities, and other things that motivate employees to do their best.

Hygiene: This includes security, health insurance, competitive salary, efficient supervisors, and other expected standards.

Statistics backing positive reinforcement in the workplace

Although this concept may seem new for many entrepreneurs, it would be a costly mistake to ignore leveraging it in day-to-day operations because of its benefits.

Several studies validate:

  • ✔ Businesses encouraging growth and providing excellent benefits packages have higher employee satisfaction rates and minimal attrition.
  • ✔ Optimistic managers have a positive influence on improving employee engagement and performance.
  • Highly engaged employees represent a company’s most incredible value.

Types of positive reinforcement

The four types of positive reinforcers you can use for your employees are:

  1. Tangible rewards: Actual physical rewards such as money, treats, gift cards, and so on, in many ways, remain some of the most important methods to recognize employees.
  2. Social recognition: Verbal, public recognition of effort such as a ‘well done’ said in person or a congratulatory email marked to the entire team are forms of social recognition.
  3. Token system: These are points or tokens given for displaying positive behavior, which can then be exchanged for something else, providing more employees the freedom to redeem points on things that are most meaningful to them.
  4. Badges: Badges are given for completing a task, for instance, mastering Excel by completing a training course or getting certified in a new skill or tool.

Examples of positive reinforcement in the workplace

An effective workplace positive reinforcement program should cover multiple aspects of the employees’ routine at the office.

There are three main types of positive reinforcement that your organization should invest in:

1. Growth and self-efficacy

This kind of positive reinforcement includes providing regular opportunities to voice opinions, presenting on a topic to an audience, taking up opportunities for advancement, and receiving constructive feedback. It celebrates doing well daily and motivates a continuation of quality work at your workplace.

2. Monetary compensation

When delivered in a manner commensurate with the employee’s achievement, monetary compensation in cash benefits or paid time off remains the most powerful form of positive reinforcement.

Performance bonuses, extra raises, paid parental/menstrual leave, mental health allowance, and quality health insurance are all excellent ways to reward and engage high-performing individuals in your organization.

3. Work-life balance

Extended lunch breaks, onsite gyms, desirable office spaces, free meals and coffee, flexible dress code, and pets allowed at the office are good ways to give your employees the comfort they need and deserve.

Eight ways to leverage positive reinforcement at your organization

Never assume that employees know why they are doing a good job. Support self-efficacy by ‘catching them doing well’ and praising their efforts. Here are eight ways to leverage positive reinforcement at your organization:

1. Put reinforcers into effect at once

When your employee does something worthy of commendation, reward them for the good work. These rewards must be instantaneous to establish a clear connection between the reward and the action.

2. Use a personalized reinforcer

Ideally, do not just hand out the same reward to every person. Instead, give employees the choice to pick from different reward choices.

For instance, some people respond well to monetary rewards, while others prefer experiential rewards like restaurant vouchers or concert tickets.

3. Be specific about what you are giving a reward

For positive reinforcement to work, the receiver (i.e., your employee) needs to be clear about what aspect of their behavior they are being rewarded for.

4. Keep applying reinforcers and be consistent

Rewards and recognition give employees a sense of purpose and motivate them to repeat their winning behavior.

Create frequent moments of recognition using a mix of monetary and non-monetary rewards for employees.

5. Ensure transparency in recognition for company-wide visibility and reinforcement

Show employees how they have excelled (for instance, a graph indicating how much the awardee’s sales exceeded the average for that quarter). It acts as inspiration for other members of the team, who will be motivated to exceed the average next time.

6. Do not associate positive reinforcers with negative ones

While negative feedback is an inevitable part of managing any team, clubbing it with positive reinforcement gives the latter a negative connotation and can dampen the effect of the reward. So try and keep meetings about accomplishments and rewards exclusively positive and do not use the same meetings to discuss underperformed people.

difference between positive and negative punishment

7. Make sure natural reinforcers exist in your workplace

While external reinforcers like rewards are essential, employees need natural reinforcers to stay motivated and keep going every day.

These are positive reinforcers arising from the nature of the work being done — for instance, the increased productivity when an employee has learned how to use project management software. The employee must get to work on projects where the natural reinforcers are clear, compelling, and lasting.

Make a difference in your business outcomes

Positive reinforcement is a mutually beneficial psychology tactic that works well for a healthy workplace environment. It can help your employees communicate better and meet deadlines more efficiently — all for the sake of meeting your organizational goals.

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Priyanka Desai

Priyanka Desai LinkedIn

Priyanka Desai is the CEO and Founder of iScribblers.