· Nathaly Seruela  · 6 min read

The Power of Positive Reinforcement in the Workplace

Receiving compliments and positive feedback can make someone’s day – this isn’t rocket science. It can also improve the person’s mood throughout the week and give them the confidence to do something they didn’t think they could do in the first place.

In the workplace, you may be wondering why there is little to no progress in your company despite the thousands of meetings and reminders you have set, so a question you, as a manager, should be asking is “Do your employees know they are doing a great job?”

Seeing this question in writing might have you thinking about the last time you gave your people positive (or negative) feedback. Are you consistently giving them feedback on their performance?

Keep in mind that your employees need to feel they are appreciated after an achievement or a great performance. But why do you need to constantly give them feedback? Well, because you want your team to reach greater heights and to do that, you have to trigger a repetition of their productivity through positive reinforcement.

What is positive reinforcement?

When talking about positive reinforcement, the word “repetition” is always part of the discussion. The dictionary defines positive reinforcement as the act of rewarding a positive behavior in order to encourage it to happen again (remember: repetition) in the future. This technique is also used in various situations such as in education and parenting.

Let’s first talk about the science behind positive reinforcement. Psychology looks at positive reinforcement as the introduction of a desirable or pleasant stimulus after a certain behavior which then gets reinforced by the desirable stimulus leading to its repetition.

Psychologist B.F. Skinner introduced this principle through Operant Conditioning which is the theory that refers to the consequences of a response that determines the probability of its repeated occurrence. To put it simply, it’s the theory on how a behavior is repeated after getting a response whether positive or negative.

Skinner used the term ‘positive reinforcement’ to describe how a behavior is strengthened through rewards leading to its repetition. This could point to some companies using a strong employee recognition program that provides rewards to those who achieve company goals.

Through the rewards or positive feedback, the employees who receive gifts or compliments will be more likely to repeat their productivity while other employees will be encouraged to do their best upon seeing the positive results of appreciation.

Are you getting the picture now? Great! According to research, the brain encodes positive information better than negative information.

“In fact, people often assume negative information is unrelated to them, but view positive information as very much relevant, which generates an optimistic outlook,” an article from Harvard Business Review pointed out.

In the workplace, employees may look at the company’s recognition system as their motivation to be more productive compared to when employees are punished when their behavior is undesirable. (If you do the latter, your team may quickly become unmotivated and disengaged).

The power of positive reinforcement

Now that you have an idea of what positive reinforcement is, let’s look at how it impacts your employees or your workplace.

Many leaders tend to have negative reactions when a mistake or undesirable behavior is made by an employee – take note that negative feedback also affects your employees negatively. Try to control your emotions and turn your thoughts into positive feedback that tells the employee how they can change or overcome the mistake.

Read more: How To to Give Constructive Criticism to Different Personality Types

Side note – for more on the importance of caring for you and your employees’ Emotional Intelligence, check out our article here!

So, you might be asking yourself, does positive reinforcement really have power? You should know this by now – yes! It does and science has something to do with it. Don’t shy away from giving your employees the feedback they deserve or from a recognition system that can motivate disengaged employees as well as help your company reach your goals through teamwork.

Negatively approaching your employees may cause more harm to your company than good because it may lead to more disengagement and dismay – and with this equation, you know that this will end in less productivity and even resignation.

According to Aubrey Daniels, positive reinforcement is the “most powerful leadership tool.” You can use it to bring out the best in your employees and keep them engaged. However, a reminder – positive reinforcement is not a tool that can replace proper disciplinary actions in your workplace and is different from directing your employees to do something they shouldn’t do (aka bribing).

How to motivate your employees through positive reinforcement

To continuously motivate your employees to be more productive and to go out of their comfort zones, you can start by focusing on their accomplishments and highlighting them – whether through alerts or in your morning meetings or announcements.

Don’t be selfish with your compliments or kind words! Learn to appreciate your employees’ achievements whether big or small – recognize them! Even a newbie deserves a compliment every now and then (especially if the work they’re doing is beyond company expectations). By doing so, you are beginning to create a workplace with a culture of recognition. Plus, your employees will start to be emotionally invested in their workplace and thus more company goals are achieved.

You’re starting to give out positive feedback – now what? Be consistent. Don’t just apply positive reinforcement for a week or so. Learn to embed it in your workplace culture. Stay in that lane and best believe your company will see a big improvement. Keep on thinking about the future – this is not a tool you should only use once in a blue moon.

Lastly, be humble and ask for employee feedback. They are a major part of the company after all. Ask them what they like about management and ask for suggestions on how to improve their experience – and once they feel appreciated and seen, they will definitely do their best for the company without thinking twice.

The power of positive reinforcement: why it’s important in the workplace: conclusion

To wrap up, positive reinforcement is a great way of recognizing employees. It makes staff feel like they belong in your company therefore reducing employee turnover and the number of disengaged employees.

A great leader can create an excellent working environment by engaging their teams through employee recognition - which includes positive reinforcement. People spend most of their time at work and as a manager, it’s part of your job to make them feel comfortable and appreciated.

If you need more examples to boost your employee retention, click here.

If you are tired of high attrition rates, try applying positive reinforcement in your organization and you might see a big difference.

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