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The Power of Positive Reinforcement in the Workplace

Positive reinforcement in the workplace drives employee motivation and overall employee experience. Here are the different types and examples of positive reinforcement you can use. 

Rewards and Recognition
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10 Min read
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Last Updated on
June 15, 2021

People are the most valuable asset for every organization, and they deserve to feel special and valued for the hard work they put in daily. This involves much more than just paying them a high salary or flexible working hours.

The most compelling motivation happens when you praise (and reward) your employees when they do a stellar job. Using positive reinforcement, even in the form of “recognizing individuals for a job well done” drives employee motivation and improves the overall employee experience in a workplace. 

What is Positive Reinforcement?

It is a psychological term that involves recognizing and rewarding desirable actions so that employees are encouraged to keep performing those actions.

What is Positive Reinforcement?

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

The Science Behind Positive Reinforcement

The notion of the concept first came about with 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 or punished for indulging in certain behaviors, such as lever pressing (a positive action that would give the rat a pellet to nibble on).

The Science Behind Positive Reinforcement
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This theory focuses on two types of behavioral reinforcement, positive and negative. Positive reinforcement as a reward for a specific action will lead to a repetition of that action. 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: 

  1. Positive Reinforcement: Giving something beneficial, like a reward or recognition to employees, to induce the desired behavior from them, is a form of positive reinforcement. 
  1. Negative reinforcement: This involves removing an adverse circumstance to induce the desired behavior.
  1. Motivation: Employee Appreciation and recognition, opportunities for personal and professional growth, achievements, responsibility, and other things that motivate employees to do their best entail motivation. 
  1. Hygiene: Environmental factors like security, health insurance, competitive salary, efficient supervisors, and other expected standards at every job are a part of hygiene. 


Positive Reinforcement in the Workplace Statistics

Although this psychology concept may sound new for many entrepreneurs, it is a mistake to ignore leveraging it in day-to-day operations because of the benefits positive reinforcement provides. 

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

Positive reinforcement for employees is effective only when appropriate reinforcers are put to use with the focus on improving workplace performance and motivation. 

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 are a part of tangible rewards. In many ways, these remain some of the most important methods to recognize employees
  1. 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. Alternatively, Xoxoday Empuls lets you put employee recognition at the heart of your company culture. The employee recognition platform allows you to post peer to peer recognition, thank you notes and congratulate on a work anniversary – directly through Slack, Microsoft Teams and Gusto. 
  1. Token system: These are points or tokens given in return for positive behavior, which can then be exchanged for something else. This reward system provides more freedom for employees to use their points on things they want.
  1. Natural: These rewards in the form of motivation badges come by having completed the task itself. For instance, by mastering Excel, employees can complete accounting and sales sheets much faster. Or if they can collaborate more efficiently because of their knowledge in using any project management tool like Slack or Microsoft teams.


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 management should invest in, namely:


1. Growth and self-efficacy

This kind of positive reinforcement includes providing regular opportunities to voice opinions, present work to an audience, take up opportunities for advancement and receive constructive feedback. It celebrates doing well daily and motivates a continuation of quality work at your workplace — which is especially tough during these uncertain times.


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

Your employees need to feel comfortable at the place where they are devoting a substantial portion of each weekday. Offering positive reinforcement that speaks to this calls for a deep understanding of what motivates each individual employee.

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

1. Put Reinforcers into effect at once

When your employee does something worthy of commendation, reward them for the good work. These rewards could be immediate or at least very soon after to establish a clear connection between the reward and the action. 

You can automate the recognition program using Xoxoday Plum. Using engaging rewards such as gift cards, experiences and discounts, you can drive behaviors that power business results. 


2. Use a personalized reinforcer

Ideally, do not just hand out the same reward to every person. Instead, try to pick something personalized that the specific receiver will appreciate, based on your knowledge of who they are.

For instance, some people respond well to monetary rewards, while others prefer experiential rewards like restaurant vouchers or concert tickets. You can deploy a tool like Xoxoday Empuls to understand what makes your employees tick and what would make them happy, motivated, and engaged.


3. Use a variety of reinforcers

Just as you need to tailor rewards to each person, you also need to offer variety in your rewards. For instance, someone may appreciate restaurant coupons, but they will eventually lose interest if you keep giving them coupons for the same restaurant.

Alternatively, you could set up a formal reward and recognition program or put in place a rewards and recognition platform to personalize rewards and moderate and control the recognition. 


4. Be specific about what you are rewarding

For positive reinforcement to work, the receiver (i.e., your employee) needs to be clear about precisely what aspect of their behavior they are being awarded for. A vague reason like a ‘self-driven attitude’ will not work. Instead, it would be best if you justified the reward.


5. Keep applying reinforcers and be consistent

An important impact of employee rewards and recognition on employee experience that it creates a positive work environment. Rewards and recognition give employees a sense of purpose and motivates them to win rewards. 

And if you are wondering how recognition should be given, here are some tips in the form of non-monetary rewards for employees

  • Public recognition in the form of awards or certificates. 
  • Private one-to-one recognition from peers, clients, or managers. 
  • Recognition based on performance. 
  • Promotion or increased job responsibilities. 
  • Monetary rewards. 


You must fix a frequency. The timeliness will effectively convey the significance of employee achievement and help reinforce values that your organization wants to drive over time.

Let’s take the example of employees who are upskilling themselves. Suppose the marketing intern is learning about SEO. Along the course, every time they finish a personal milestone, you could reward them. That way, they are motivated to complete the course and start trying their hands on the new marketing skill. 


6. Connect the reinforcement you are giving with computerized feedback

This is an essential visual aid that helps employees see for themselves how they have excelled (for instance, a graph indicating how much the awardee’s sales exceeded the average for that quarter). It also acts as inspiration for other members of the team, who will also be motivated to exceed the average next time.


7. 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.

The Power of Positive Reinforement

8. Make sure natural reinforcers exist in your workplace

Rewards are external reinforcers, meaning that they come from an external agency to the employee. While such reinforcers are undoubtedly essential, there comes a point where the employee needs natural reinforcers to stay motivated and keep going.

These are the positive reinforcers that arise out of the nature of the work being done — for instance, the increased productivity when an employee has learned how to use project management software.

It is essential that the employee gets to work on projects where the natural reinforcers are clear, compelling, and lasting, as all external reinforcers, by default, have a point of termination.


Make a difference in your business outcome.

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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