Hearing the words negative reinforcement makes most think about rewarding bad behavior. But that’s not exactly what it is. In B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, negative reinforcement is where a response or behavior is strengthened when a negative outcome or aversive stimulus is removed, stopped or avoided.
Let’s say you want to avoid traffic so you don’t get late coming in to work. This is the aversive stimulus that you want to avoid. What do you do? The simplest solution would be to alter you behavior. Simply put, you leave your home early in order to beat traffic.
But how can this be used in the workplace? Here are some examples:
A Nagging Boss
Let’s face it: most employees don’t like a nagging boss. To be honest, it just ruins the entire day. But sometimes, nagging is used as a negative reinforcement technique so an employee reaches the desired productivity level required of them.
Nagging puts employees into an unpleasant situation but when they improve their productivity levels, the nagging will stop. As such, nagging was able to reinforce the desired behavior.
While nagging may get employees to be more productive, it doesn’t get them to go beyond what is required of them.
Not Participating In Meetings
Not every employee looks forward to meetings. After all, taking 30 minutes to an hour of one’s time for updates and other discussions that can be sent through email is precious time spent away from tasks that need to be completed. So whenever the weekly meetings are scheduled, employees usually dread it. A boss who sees this may want to do something about it.
One thing that could be done is encourage employees to hit certain goals and if that is successful, they can skip the weekly meeting. Let’s say you work in a retail store and in order to stop attending meetings, the entire team has to work in order to increase revenue by at least 5% the following month.
Doing this may get employees excited about skipping the meeting. As such, they might work harder to hit the 5% revenue increase so they don’t have to spend their time at a meeting.
Sometimes, employees are asked to come in on Saturdays. Employees want to rest during the weekends and a boss understands that. So in order to avoid coming in on Saturdays, a boss can ask employees to hit the target within the week so they don’t need to come in on the weekend. This will give employees motivation to work harder so they can have time off on Saturday. Any opportunity to rest and relax will likely motivate an employee to work harder so that all the targets that need to be hit are met within the work week.
Many consider negative reinforcement an effective way to strengthen a desired behavior. Then again, it works best when the reinforcers are presented right after a behavior. This means that the technique is best used on a short-term basis as the response will get weaker as time drags along.
Crystal Lombardo has been a staff writer for Future of Working for five years. She is a proud veteran and mother. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our editor-in-chief a message here.