Shape employee behaviour to overcome change

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According to BERNARD, BASS & JAMES VAUGHN, "Learning is a relatively permanent change in behaviour which occurs as a result of experience".

Learning is the ongoing process in everyone's life. So, it is same for an organisation. Employees need to learn to perform the tasks and duties that make up their jobs, how to interact with other people working in the organisation, how things work in organisation. There are rapid changes happening within and outside the organisation, this requires employees to continually learn on the job.


The main purpose of this study is to know what are organisational behaviour and employee behaviour and also the implementation of reinforcement theory towards the employee's behaviour in organisation to overcome the forces of consequences which is likely to happen because of employee's behaviour.


The way in which we intend to do the paper, is by applying cases for all types of reinforcement theory and providing a solution for the same, finding out the advantages and disadvantages of each reinforcement theory, and the final conclusion about the impact of reinforcement theory


Many traditional theory or programs were focused on practices, in which there will be a controller or teacher who controls the behavior of an employee, like giving physical stress for them. By forcing them to do more which they are unable to do will lead to mistakes and finally it affects the organisational goals and objectives.

To avoid this some organisation use theories and techniques those are encouraged by psychology and science

Theories of learning and motivation focus on the effect of the past behaviour of the employees and also the future aspect. This theory urges the individuals to choose from several responses, and the individual will choose the positive results from the past. This idea is developed by E.L. Thorndike in the year 1911, which is called as Law of effect. The law states that all are equal if followed by satisfaction and strengthen but it will be weakened if followed by discomfort.

B.F.Skinner developed a theory "Radical behavior", which states that an organisation can make use reinforcement to control the behavior of their employees. He also argued that people's behavior exhibits as a result of what is happening and not by the internal needs and drives.

Skinner said "The external variables of which behavior is a function for what may be called a casual or functional analysis. We undertake to predict and control the behavior of the individual organism"

For example: In an organisation the employee can be given a recognition among the other employees, so that he/she can feel that the company is supporting their work, and will contribute more in the future.


Change is common in every field in this world, so as the case in organisation. Due to economic pressure, increasing competition, companies are urged to change accordingly. Downsizing of organisation is the frequent change followed in the past. But today managing changes is one of the big tasks for the organisation. When an organisation cannot resist to the change, then there is huge loss of money. In this aggressive environment, organisation has to adapt quickly and should go with the flow of change.

People in the organisation welcome changes for the following reasons,

To gain reward personally. Personal gain involves many things like increase in the security, increase in salary, Gaining prestige, better working conditions, self- actualisation etc.,

The other factors includes gaining new challenge in the work or the job

In general perspective, change has different effect on different people. It is the organisation's job to carefully look into each reaction and take decisions accordingly.


Reinforcement theory is a method of changing or reshaping the behaviour of employees in the organisation. This theory fully concentrates on the consequences after and action is taken by the employee. So the outside or environment of the organisation should be organised effectively and efficiently to encourage or motivate employee. It is also a strong tool for controlling individual's behavior, but it does not focus more on the consequences of the individual's behavior.


Basically the theory of reinforcement is implemented by three basic steps

Happening of some situation

Behaving according to the situation

Consequence of the behavior

During the process of reinforcement theory employee will learn several things. Initially they will come across and learn certain behavior which leads to some situation or consequence.

For example: In an organisation, one employee made a mistake in allocation of boxes in the warehouse, so the supervisor gives the employee a warning that this mistake should not happen. Through this the other employees will learn that they should be careful in doing the job without any mistake


This principle is called as theory of consequences. It gives the possible outcomes, after the consequences.

The consequence which increase the behavior - Rewards

The consequence which decrease the behavior - Punishments

The consequence which neither increase nor decrease the behavior - Extinction

These three principles are classified under four types as follows

Positive Reinforcement

Negative Reinforcement

Extinction and






Positive reinforcement

The positive reinforcement is the condition of a desired behavior which is shown as a output by the employee in the organisation were it is liked by manager and organisation because of positive output and it is rewarded by the organisation to the respective employee

Meaning of positive reinforcement:

It deals with providing good or positive rewards for the happening of positive behavior in the organisation. Not only a single employee is rewarded, if a particular group has done well, then they will also be rewarded. This theory urges the employee to perform well again in the future. It stimulus the occurrence of the behavior. The reward will be positive only when there is a positive consequence. Sometimes positive reinforcement is given to a particular individual; the reason is the reward given to one person may not have same effect to the other. Even to shape and re-shape the organisation, they make use of positive reinforcement. It is a tool when used effectively will have positive outcomes for the organisation.

To create a major impact on employee, it is necessary to note and care about their needs, in which there is a major impact of positive reinforcement. It also contributes to enhancement of company's performance. By effective positive reinforcement, there is in increase in company's competitive advantage in the market place.

There are basically two types of positive reinforcement.

Extrinsic rewards: This include giving monetary rewards like bonus, extra allowance

This reward is tangible.

Intrinsic rewards: This is basically a non-monetary reward given to the employee, like motivation, recognition in front of other employee in the organisation. It develops the interpersonal skills of the employee. It is something like self-actualisation


An employee named jack is working in the laboratory. He is a very hard worker. Even though he works hard, he is a kind of loner, and he won't mingle with everyone in the company. The supervisor thought of an idea, so that it can encourage him to meddle with everyone.

Whenever Jack is engaged with team work and project, the departmental supervisor will recognise and praise him in front of other group members. As a result of this method of encouraging, he started to meddle with everyone and his level of working with team has increased.

In an organisation, the head of sales department keeps a target of selling 500 soaps in a week for each sales person under different location. Each sales person has to go his/her given territory to sell soaps. At the end week, everyone came to the head. In this two of the employee has sold extra, apart from 500 soaps. The sales department has said earlier that, if any salesperson selling above the target will get a bonus. As said by the sales head, those to two salesperson got a bonus apart from salary. This type of reinforcement comes under extrinsic rewards, like giving monetary rewards to the employee when he/ she achieves the target or above the target.

Negative Reinforcement:

In behaviorism, negative reinforcement involves the removal of an unpleasant stimulus when a desired behavior occurs. It differs from positive reinforcement as the stimulus is taken away rather than given when the behavior happens. The principles of negative reinforcement may actually worsen a phobia.

Meaning of negative reinforcement:

This is also same as rewards. In this theory the organisation encourages the employee to avoid the undesirable consequence and take away them from that situation when the behavior happens. This theory is often misunderstood with punishment, but they are not the same. Punishment decreases the performance but negative reinforcement attempts to increase the performance of the employee. We can say that both positive and negative reinforcement have same effect of enhancing the performance, which makes the employees to learn and implement in their workforce. The negative reinforcement is mainly used by managers and the workforce.


Take a case of foot ball team in National Football League. The team is out if it has more than one loses and the team coach is also fired from the league. So the coach has to take into consideration this negative force, and has to start to train and give more practises to the team to win the game. By giving more practises the team wins the game. And ultimately the coach will not be fired from the job.

In this example the negative drives is lose and firing from job. So the coach to overcome this negative force, put some effort to move away, and by moving the goal is achieved which the team won the match and coach will not be fired from the job.


 A conditioning process in which the reinforcer is removed and a conditioned response becomesindependent of the conditioned stimulus 

Meaning of Extinction:

It implies the method of lowering the performance of unwanted behavior, by not giving or not continuing to reward that kind of performance. It has a relationship between the actual behavior and the weakened behavior. In this reinforcement theory, the reward is given only once and it gets disappeared as and when time goes by. It is like praising the employee only once for his/her performance, because continuous rewards and praises will lead to low performance of the employee and wont contribute more to organisation's goals. Punishment and Extinction are more or less similar, which has same purpose to remove unwanted behavior. Extinction will reduce to praise or reward the wanted behavior, like a positive reinforcement is not given when a desirable behavior occurs. Extinction occurs only when there is occurrence of unwanted behavior.

This theory may apply to an employee who always chats rather doing the work and also not allowing others to work. This is where extinction comes into action. To stop this behavior of the employee, all the other employees should be discouraged to welcome all these unwanted behavior.


In an organisation an employee receives rewards and praises for quick decisions he makes and also finishes the job promptly. This was going on for several times, and at one point, the management stopped to praise him for his work and commitment. The effect of this will be, unwanted behaviors of the employee, like not finishing the job at correct time, consuming more time for decision making etc.,. To avoid all these consequences the management have to continue to offer him positive reinforces to get better and positive outcome.


Punishment is an undesirable event that follows a behavior it intends to eliminate.

Meaning of punishment:

The role of shaping of employee behavior through punishment is very difficult. General concept of punishment is that it removes unwanted behavior, by giving negative follow to the behavior. This point distinguishes punishment from negative reinforcement which deals with avoidance of unwanted behavior. Punishment should not be given more than once, as it leads to more consequences. But punishment alone cannot remove undesired behavior completely, as it doesn't have an alternative for the consequence or situation. Punishment means influence of sufferings upon doing things wrong. In many cases there is only temporary stop or defeat of the punished behavior. So ultimately, any implementation of punishment must be done or thought carefully.

However for some punishment there are alternatives. The managers should take into consideration several other strategies. One alternative which can be done to the organisation is re designing and re arranging the work space. Through this we can avoid the occurrence of undesired behavior.


Take a case in an organisation an employee is a regular late comer for his work. The organisation decided to give memo to everyone, including the employee who was coming late, mentioning about strict time-keeping. By getting the memo, the employee will start coming punctual to the office, but this may have effect on the employee for some days. The other effect is people coming correct on time may come late occasionally, so to compensate the late hours, they will work during the lunch break. These individuals will resist by force, coming on time.

Another example is that, in an organisation an employee was not working properly and also a regular late comer. In this case management will have to take a serious step, to avoid this scene or behavior. The management has to either demote him from his position because of not adhering to the goals of the company or suspend the employee without any rise in pay, for not following the rules of the company.

Schedules of Reinforcement:

Schedule of reinforcement tells that how often a reinforcement theory is applied in the organisation. It varies according to the number of times a behavior occurred. It is also depends how much time it has been passed.

There are two types of schedules. Continuous and intermittent reinforcement. Continuous reinforcement means it is given each time when a behavior occurs.

Intermittent reinforcement can be of two, types ratio or interval type. Ratio deals with the response rate a subject can make. Interval reinforcement deals with the time gap between the previous reinforcement and current reinforcement. This interval reinforcement is further classified into Fixed-interval type and variable-interval type. Fixed interval means spreading up of rewards in fixed intervals. The variable time is held constant in this type. If rewards are distributed but it is not predictable then it is referred to as variable interval time

Reinforcement Schedule

Nature of Reinforcement

Effect on behavior



Reward given after each desired behavior

Fast learning of new behavior but rapid extinction


Fixed- interval

Reward given at fixed time intervals

Average and irregular performance with rapid extinction

Weekly pay checks

Variable- interval

Reward given at variable time intervals

Moderately high and stable performance with slow extinction

Pop quizzes

Fixed ratio

Reward given at fixed amounts of output

High and stable performance attained quickly but also with rapid extinction

Piece-rate pay

Variable- ratio

Reward given at variable amounts of output

Very high performance with slow extinction

Commissioned sales

Source: Stephen P. Robbins, Timothy A. Judge (2007). Organisational Behavior. 12th edition. Pearson international edition



Even though reinforcement theory is a powerful and effective tool, it also has some limitations. To use this theory effectively, the organisation has to overcome all these difficulties

It is highly difficult to identify the rewards and punishments in a big organisation. As reinforcement is identified by the function performed. There is no certain book or set of rules of rewards and punishments. Findings of good rewards and punishments need a good experience in the field.

Difficult control the sources of reinforcement. The organisation may have confusion whether they have used correct method of reinforcement. An employee must have expected some other rewards, but the organisation must have given some rewards, this may leads to lose in control between the employee and management.

It is difficult to perform punishment. Punishment is extremely a powerful weapon for all the living things. As it affects the emotional part of the people. A punishment must be immediate, stick to a particular function, should be unavoidable and should happen every time when a particular behavior occurs. If the organisation couldn't follow these conditions, then punishment will fail.

The employees in the organisation will start to hate the person who gives them punishment. Because the people getting punishments will experience some kind of negative emotions, as it very easy to condition or object emotions.


This project explains about the changes happening outside the organisation, which has the effect on the organisation and also how to overcome these changes through reinforcement. The theory explains about four types of reinforcement. First is positive reinforcement, which consists of extrinsic rewards like bonus and rewards and intrinsic rewards like motivation, developing interpersonal skills. Second negative reinforcement which explains about designing a method, so that employee will not perform undesirable actions. Third is extinction, which tells that employees use their intellectual knowledge to encourage good behaviors and also to discourage the bad behaviors. And finally Punishment, this theory includes certain methods, which demote the employees if their performance is not up to the standards of the organisation. Apart from these theories, if there is a good coordination within each department, and if each department works mutually on the change, then there will be better performance of the company and can attain the goals effectively. For better coordination there should be good communication gap between the management and the employees

Citation and References

John, G & Sacks, A. (2001). Organisational Behavior: Understanding and Managing Life at Work. 5th Edition. Addison Wesley: Toronto

Stephen P. Robbins, Timothy A. Judge (2007) Organisational Behavior. 12th Edition

Robert P. Vecchio (2006). Organisational Behavior: Core Concepts. 6th Edition. International student edition