Hello, there! During this week's business classes, I spent the textbook readings learning about how managers can motivate their employees. A specific section, among others, caught my eye in the text: reinforcement theory.
What is the reinforcement theory?
Reinforcement Theory states how behavior is a function of its outcomes. Put another way, we can use rewards or punishments to reinforce desired behavior or extinguish unwanted behavior.
For example, let's say that you stay late at the office working on finishing an additional report, even though your boss did not ask you to do so. The following day, the consequences of your actions were good. Your boss praised you for taking the initiative to complete another report, and then rewards you with a free lunch. Basically, your initiative was reinforced by your boss.
However, if your boss ignored your sacrifice of time and nobody commented on you completing that additional report, you would be less likely to stay late in the future.
How to use reinforcement theory?
There are four common ways that someone can apply reinforcement theory on other people:
1) Positive Reinforcement: making sure that desirable behavior is met with positive reinforcement, such as praise or additional rewards. If the praise immediately follows the action or behavior, then the behavior will be reinforced, and the person will likely repeat it.
2) Negative Reinforcement: involves removing unpleasant outcomes until the desired behavior is achieved. For example, a supervisor may nag an employee until they finish a duty or task. Once they complete this task, the nagging (negative outcome) will stop. Unfortunately, I do not like this type of reinforcement because this might have unintentional consequences or behavior from the person. For example, the employee or person may avoid the boss to cease the nagging.
3) Extinction: although I think that this type of reinforcement is named rather dramatically, the name captures this method reasonably well. Extinction refers to removing ALL rewards from negative behavior. For example, if you want someone to reduce telling inappropriate jokes at work, you could ignore them whenever they tell dirty jokes. There is no guarantee that this method will completely stop the behavior, but it could help reduce the negative behavior.
4) Punishment: last, but not least. As many can probably guess, punishment refers to giving negative consequences to people when they commit unwanted behaviors. For example, we can provide a warning to someone who is consistently late to work.
Although theories like the reinforcement theory are useful for people to understand how to motivate others, I firmly believe that it only captures an incomplete picture of motivating people. Therefore, I highly recommend that people experiment with positive reinforcement and punishment methods when possible.
I feel confident that these methods can be used to motivate your kids, employees, or friends who need help. Perhaps, if done correctly, one could apply this theory to their daily life.
Bauer, T., & Erdogan, B. (2018). Human relations in administration (4th ed.). Asheville, NC: Soomo Learning. Available from http://www.webtexts.com