Positive And Negative Reinforcement As A Management Strategy

Posted on written by Marvin

Managing staff is never easy.

Aside from having to supervise their work and deal with conflict or issues within your team you need to focus on your own tasks as well. There are various management strategies out there however positive and negative reinforcement are two of the most commonly used in today’s workplace.

Both have, funnily enough, positive and negative results. Before we get into the best management strategy to use for your business we need to first define what we mean by positive and negative reinforcement.

What Are The Differences?

Positive reinforcement is generally about incentivising and rewarding employees for their work. For example, this can take the form of formal appraisals, bonuses or commission structures and usually works by incentivising high performance.

Negative reinforcement is different. It feeds off reprimanding employees for their mistakes or removing a pleasant part of the working environment to make your staff work harder to get it back. In some ways it sounds like a punishment but it is designed to increase productivity and good performance to avoid an undesirable outcome.

Both of these management styles have issues though.

Positive And Negative Reinforcement Concerns

A business built solely on positive reinforcement can suffer from underperformance. It doesn’t sound like rewarding and incentivising good work can lead to decreased productivity but consider this example. One employee consistently does well and is rewarded in front of the rest of their team – this can create an atmosphere of envy and resentment.

One way to counteract this would be with a balancing act to reward individual and group work to ensure praise isn’t centred on one person doing well and neglecting everyone else if they are also exceeding expectations.

Negative reinforcement has issues too. Over use of this management strategy can lead to poor morale, reduced productivity and a general sense of fear. In fact, it can directly result in a high staff turnover.

A method of reducing this effect while still retaining the negative reinforcement ethos is to use it sparingly as while it can contribute to a short term fix it rarely works in the long term.

What Works Best For Your Business?

Like many strategies and concepts that we speak about on this blog a mix of the two is the best way to implement a sound and effective management strategy.

Praise and motivation should be there to reward a team both individually and as a group while using negative reinforcement carefully can bring results up to speed over a short term.

Good work is something that should be rewarding and progressive incentives to keep working harder is a great motivator. At the same time bad work or underperformance shouldn’t be punished outright but negative reinforcement can certainly prove to be a fix as long as it isn’t relied on for a long period of time.

What style of management do you use in your workplace? Do you think that either positive or negative reinforcement should take precedence or does a combination of both work better?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Manager using positive or negative reinforcement in management.


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