The Use of Positive Reinforcement in Leadership

Mar 22, 2016

The Use of Positive Reinforcement in Leadership

Many managers will find themselves in the position where they simply need more output or results from the team. There are many ways to go about this but one of the better and effective ways is through positive reinforcement, the scientific definition of this is “presenting or removing a stimulus to maintain or increase the likelihood of a behavioural response”. In essence, when relating this to leadership in business, it is about rewarding or acknowledging an employees excellent work. This method is free, very effective and easy to implement in a business.

American psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted a revolutionary experiment around 1948, he deducted from this experiment that humans are controlled by their environment and we act based off reward and punishment. 

When it comes to work, there are a lot of employees who say the only feedback they get from their managers is when they do something wrong, this is a horrible way to manage your employees as they do not get a sense of accomplishment or positiveness from the work they do. A simple way to acknowledge the work your employees do is to take some interest in what they are doing and say things such as “Great work as usual”, “I appreciate the good work you have produced”, etc.

The practice of this will get the message into the employees head that they are doing well and are valued in the work place, it also increases the chances of the behaviour reoccurring in the future, meaning they are more likely to keep on producing high quality work. 

A study of over 1,700 employees in 2012 by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicated that over 50% of employees intended to search for new jobs because they felt undervalued and unappreciated, this goes to show that simple methods like this would have a positive impact on employees.

If you are willing to spend a bit extra a week to reward your employees, then there are a few methods such as loyalty rewards, a competition for the best employee every week, etc. These are also a viable option but they do have some downsides to them, such as people getting demotivated or upset about not winning a prize, or even begin becoming hostile towards other employees. This technique isn’t recommended as much as the first method is but it is still viable if done in moderation and is fun.


To conclude, if you are looking for a free method that will quickly improve the workplace environment, employee satisfaction level and the results from them, then implementing a positive reinforcement style of management will definitely be the best way to go.

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