the Reinforcement Theory

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Reinforcement theory is a cognitive approach, proposing that individual's purposes direct their actions. It is also a behavioral approach where it says reinforcement conditions behavior. Reinforcement theory ignores the inner state of the individual and concentrates solely on what happens to a person when they take some action. It can also be used as a type of motivational tool to improve their performance. BF Skinner proposed it while working with lab rats in devices, which he used to call as the skinner boxes. Where he used to try and extract a similar kind of behavior out of them by keeping them under some serious conditions and was successful in achieving it. Reinforcement theory suggests that individuals can choose from several responses to a given stimulus, and that individuals will generally select the response that has been associated with positive outcomes in the past. E.L. Thorndike articulated this idea in 1911, in what has come to be known as the law of effect. The law of effect basically states that, all other things being equal, responses to stimuli that are followed by satisfaction will be strengthened, but responses that are followed by discomfort will be weakened.

The main objective of the project is to use reinforcement theory to overcome the restraining forces of change.

People refuse to new changes brought in the work environment due to many reasons of insecurity, uncertainty, etc. thus they do not accept the change and stand against it. Here we are trying to use reinforcement theory to achieve our objective. Restraining forces as the forces that make change more difficult. Restraining forces are those factors that resist change to occur; few examples are lack of skill and knowledge, antagonism between the employees and the manager, poor job description. This paper will elaborate on these factors that do not permit change to occur, how to deal with the restraining forces, examine the relationship between the restraining forces and the driving forces for change to maintain the change equilibrium.

Restraining forces of change:

There are many forces that restrain to a change in the work environment such as:

Uncertainty regarding change

Fear of the unknown

Disturbances in the routine

Loss of existing benefits

Threat to the current position

Redistribution of power

Disturb in the existing social networks

Conformity to norms and culture.

The general principle here is that whenever a change is perceived as creating some threat to the employee having his/her needs met the more likely resistance will be overcome. These above-mentioned forces restrain to any changes in the work environment because they don't know what may happen with a small change brought in their work life and are against it. To overcome such forces we can utilize the theory of reinforcement and help the employees adopt to the new changes.



Reinforcement is the process of managing ones behavior by having a contingent consequence that follow a behavior with the intent of promoting a consistent pattern of behavior responses.

It is basically a behavioral approach, which says that reinforcement induces behavior. Management application of reinforcement theory rest on the assumptions that people in positions of authority can be thought to use environmental consequences to stimulate and shape behavior of other employees.

The main objective of the project is to utilize reinforcement theory to over come the restraining forces of change.


To encourage the employees for their good performance.

To eliminate undesired behavior from the employee.

To make them feel that the employees are noticed for their good work increases the positive attitude in him.

To improve the work force for more effectiveness.

To achieve the organizational goals.

To induce reinforces following a behavior that will shape up a patterned response to a given condition.

Advantages of reinforcement:

Trough reinforcement the desired behavior of an individual can be improved and make it reoccurring.

It also helps in eliminating the undesired behavior or any kind of negativity in an organization.

It helps in completing the task more effectively and more efficiently.

It acts as a motivational tool.

Disadvantages of reinforcement:

It is a short-term change in performance.

The commitment towards work in a long run tends to reduce.

It removes the employee's loyalty and tends to become more monetary.


Probably the best-known application of the principles of reinforcement theory to organizational settings is called behavioral modification. Typically, a behavioral modification program consists of four steps:

Specifying the desired behavior as objectively as possible.

Measuring the current incidence of desired behavior.

Providing behavioral consequences that reinforce desired behavior.

Determining the effectiveness of the program by systematically assessing behavioral change.

Reinforcement theory is an important explanation of how people learn to change ones behavior. It is often applied to organizational settings in the context of a behavioral modification program. Although the assumptions of reinforcement theory are often criticized, its principles continue to offer important insights into individual learning and motivation.

There are four ways trough, which you can shape up ones behavior.

They are:

Positive reinforcement

Negative reinforcement



Positive reinforcement:

The positive reinforcement occurs when a successive employee is chosen to be rewarded by the managers; the employer is positively reinforced for the desired behavior in organization.

It provides a favorable consequence that encourages repetition of a behavior. For example an employee may find that when a high quality work is done the supervisor gives a reward of recognition hence the behavior is reinforced and the employee tends to do a high quality work again to gain the reward. It basically occurs after presenting any desirable behavior in the form of rewards or incentives.


The experience of emery airfreight with its containerized shipping operations. The company's objective is to consolidate small packages into large containers in order to shipping and handling costs. The standard is for 90% of small packages to be shipped in large containers but an audit at various locations showed that the actual use was about 45%. Further study showed that the workers were properly trained and reasonably co operative but they were not motivated to meet the standard.

To improve the employees performance the management applied the program of positive reinforcement. It trained the supervisors to give daily performance feedback, recognition and rewards. In the first test, the office performance went up to 95%. Then the program was applied in the actual working office and it showed great results of the first day. The results tend to continue for four weeks covered in the study. The regular feedback and recognition gave the workers consequences that strongly influence the behavior. The reinforcement used in here i.e. positive reinforcement was utilized properly to motivate the employees and which in turn led to the increase in their performance. Thus in this case positive reinforcement scored a notable success.

Negative reinforcement:

Negative reinforcement is defined as the removal of the unpleasant or the employee's unwanted behavior. He /her is negatively reinforced by the manager in order to stop that behavior not happened again. This reinforcement is also a type of encouragement but it differs from positive reinforcement.

It occurs when behavior is accompanied by removal of unfavorable consequences, there fore it are not the same as the punishment. Consistent with the law of effect, behavior responsible for the removal of something unfavorable is repeated when that unfavorable is again encountered. It is when a particular stimulus is removed after a behavior, and this causes the behavior to increase as a result. Negative in this sense does not mean "bad", but that something is subtracted or taken away.


There was a change that was introduced in aircraft field employees where they were supposed to wear noise suppressor equipment so that they can avoid the noise from the aircrafts.

A HR of an aircraft that learned that an employee would wear a noise suppressor over their ears, as they could prevent the discomfort from the jet engine sound this reinforcement made them wear proper noise suppressor equipment. Here the negative affect in the work environment i.e. the noise from the aircraft, which leads to a behavior change in the employee and makes them wear the noise suppressors.


The punishment is the physiological treatment for the employees by the managers to completely reduce the undesired behavior of the employee in organization.

It is the administration of the unfavorable consequence that discourages a certain behavior. It needs to be used with caution because it has certain limitations. A major one is that punishment majorly discourages undesirable behavior but it does not directly encourage any kind of desirable behavior too until and unless the person receiving it is clearly aware of the alternative path to follow. Another problem is that the punishers may also become disliked for the disciplinary actions, which may place strain in the work relationship and reduce the punisher's effectiveness when offering future reinforcement. Also people who are punished may be unclear about what part of the work or behavior that they are actually being punished for and it is possible that some desirable behaviors may also get discouraged.


An employee with an undesirable behavior of being late to the office can be put under the punishment reinforcement to decrease the undesirable behavior. Thus the lack of punctuality is the undesirable behavior and punishment can be suspension cut in pay etc. can be used to suppress such behavior and get good results from the employee.


Extinction is the state or a fact of being not rewarded or positively reinforced by manager for the person desired behavior in the organization were he /her may not continue their undesired behavior.

It is the holding of significant positive consequences that are previously provided for the desirable behavior. Such desirable that is learnt behavior needs to be reinforced to encourage the person to repeat the action in the future. If there is no reinforcement by the manager then the behavior tends to diminish through lack of reinforcement. It is basically used to remove any undesirable or unwanted behavior with out hurting them.


An employee who had been praised for his creativity made three suggestions to his supervisor over a period of several weeks. The supervisor did not reject the suggestions nor did he accept them. He just left the suggestions doing nothing. Then slowly the employee's behavior of giving suggestions went away due to lack of recognition. In this case the supervisor probably did not intend to cause the extinction, but in other cases extinction is used as a conscious strategy. Then alternative responses that are desired can be reinforced to change the behavior.

Other strategies:

The other strategies that can be used to overcome the resistance is by proper education and communication about the new change which is tend to arise. By proper negotiation and reward systems would also help one to overcome the resistance. Motivation before your employees are really motivated to work at change, they must be convinced of the personal and professional benefits to themselves, as well as to their organization. In addition, management must realize that work will slow during the transitional process. Often temporary help must be brought in or overtime authorized to help get the more mundane tasks accomplished. Give chance to employees to express opinions Persuasion needs a user-friendly approach. User-friendly in this context means giving employees an opportunity to vent, to express their own ideas and to make mistakes. It means that managers involved in the process must remain positive and approachable, and have an encouraging demeanor. Part of the change process involves conducting teambuilding and management development workshops to promote change, get input on needs and work with different management styles.


The timing of the behavioral consequences that follow a given behavior is called the reinforcement schedule. Basically, there are two broad types of reinforcement schedules: continuous and intermittent. If a behavior is reinforced each time it occurs, it is called continuous reinforcement. Research suggests that continuous reinforcement is the fastest way to establish new behaviors or to eliminate undesired behaviors. However, this type of reinforcement is generally not practical in an organizational setting. Therefore, intermittent schedules are usually employed. Intermittent reinforcement means that each instance of a desired behavior is not reinforced. There are at least four types of intermittent reinforcement schedules: fixed interval, fixed ratio, variable interval, and variable ratio.

Fixed interval schedules of reinforcement occur when desired behaviors are reinforced after set periods of time. The simplest example of a fixed interval schedule is a weekly paycheck. A fixed interval schedule of reinforcement does not appear to be a particularly strong way to elicit desired behavior, and behavior learned in this way may be subject to rapid extinction. The fixed ratio schedule of reinforcement applies the reinforce after a set number of occurrences of the desired behaviors. One organizational example of this schedule is a sales commission based on number of units sold. Like the fixed interval schedule, the fixed ratio schedule may not produce consistent, long-lasting, behavioral change.

Variable interval reinforcement schedules are employed when desired behaviors are reinforced after varying periods of time. Examples of variable interval schedules would be special recognition for successful performance and promotions to higher-level positions. This reinforcement schedule appears to elicit desired behavioral change that is resistant to extinction.

Finally, the variable ratio reinforcement schedule applies the reinforce after a number of desired behaviors have occurred, with the number changing from situation to situation. The most common example of this reinforcement schedule is the slot machine in a casino, in which a different and unknown number of desired behaviors (i.e., feeding a quarter into the machine) is required before the reward (i.e., a jackpot) is realized. Organizational examples of variable ratio schedules are bonuses or special awards that are applied after varying numbers of desired behaviors occur. Variable ratio schedules appear to produce desired behavioral change that is consistent and very resistant to extinction.

Conclusion and recommendations:

This project tells us about the restraining forces of change and the strategies utilized to over come such forces. The senior management of the organization can introduce any kind of change that helps the organization development but the employees who are the actual victims of the change resist to it due to some fears such as insecurity or uncertainty etc. The reinforcement theory is mainly used to overcome such forces, which includes four types such as positive, negative, punishment and extinction. Using such methods by the organization can help them shape and reshape their employee's behavior according to their requirements and help them achieve their goals, which finally leads to the achievement of the organizational goals. The positive reinforcement mainly concentrates on the methods such as rewards systems or any incentives, which help the employees to shape their behaviors according to the organization needs. The negative reinforcement discuss about the methods of shaping the behavior by creating fear in the employees. The punishment, which is the third type of the reinforcement, is a type of negative reinforcement but it includes various methods that can even demotivate the employees and which is not preferred method to be utilized for bringing a change in the employee. Extinction is the last type where the employers use it in a clever way by encouraging the desirable behavior and discouraging the undesirable behavior. Other than reinforcement I strongly believe that proper communication about the new change and the vision of the organization can also help the employers to attain their desired behavior.