Organizational Behavior

Reinforcement Theory

Reinforcement theory of motivation was proposed by BF Skinner and his associates.

It states that individual’s behavior is a function of its consequences. It is based on “law of effect”, i.e., individual’s behavior with positive consequences tends to be repeated, but individual’s behavior with negative consequences tends not to be repeated. Reinforcement theory of motivation overlooks the internal state of the individual, i.e., the inner feelings and drives of individuals are ignored by Skinner. This theory focuses totally on what happens to an individual when he takes some action. Thus, according to Skinner, the external environment of the organization must be designed effectively and positively so as to. motivate the employee. This theory is a strong tool for analyzing controlling mechanism for individual’s behavior. However, it does not focus on the causes of individual’s behavior.

The managers use the following methods for controlling the behavior of the employees:

Positive ReinforcementThis implies giving a positive response when an individual shows positive and required behavior.

For example – Immediately praising an employee for coming early for the job. This will increase the probability of outstanding behavior occurring again. The reward is a positive reinforcer, but not necessarily. If and only if the employees’ behavior improves, the reward can be said to be a positive reinforcer. Positive reinforcement stimulates occurrence of a behavior. It must be noted that more spontaneous is the giving of reward, the greater reinforcement value it has.

Negative ReinforcementThis implies rewarding an employee by removing negative/undesirable consequences. Both positive and negative reinforcement can be used for increasing desirable / required behavior.

punishmentIt implies removing positive consequences so as to lower the probability of repeating the undesirable behavior in future. In other words, punishment means applying undesirable consequence for showing undesirable behavior.

For instance: Suspending an employee for breaking the organizational rules, punishment replenishment can be equalized by positive reinforcement from the alternative source.

Extinction: It implies the absence of reinforcements. In other words, extinction implies lowering the probability of the undesired behavior by removing reward for that kind of behavior

For instance – if an employee no longer receives praise and admiration for his good work, he may feel that his behavior is generating no fruitful consequence. Extinction may unintentionally lower desirable behavior.

The implication of Reinforcement Theory

Reinforcement theory explains in detail how an individual learns behavior. Managers who are making attempt to motivate the employees must ensure that they do not reward all employees simultaneously. They must tell the employees what they are not doing correctly. They must tell the employees how they can achieve positive reinforcement.