The Reinforcement Theory of Motivation was proposed by B.F. Skinner and his associates. This theory posits that behavior is the function of its consequences, which means an individual develops a behavior after performing certain actions.
The reinforcement theory of motivation is based on the “Law of Effect” concept, i.e. an individual is likely to repeat those actions having the positive consequences, and will avoid those behaviors that result in negative or unpleasant outcomes.
The behaviors that elicit consequences is called as operant behavior and reinforcement theory work on the relationship between the operant behavior and the associated consequences and, therefore, is often called as Operant Conditioning. Operant conditioning means, the change in the behavior caused due to the reinforcement (Positive reward or punishment) given after the response.
The reinforcement theory lay emphasis on the environmental factors that shape the behaviors and thus, Skinner believed that environment external to the organization must be designed effectively so as to increase the motivation among the employees.
Thus, the reinforcement theory of motivation mainly focuses on what happens when an individual takes some action. It is observed, that people tend to repeat those activities which gives them pleasure and avoid the activities with negative consequences.
Behavior that elicits consequences is called as the operant behavior and the reinforcement theory works on the relationship between the operant behavior and the associated consequences. This process is called the Operant Conditioning and the change in the behavior is caused due to the reinforcement given after the response.
This theory of motivation totally focuses on what happens to an individual when he/she takes some action. It is no way related to the internal state of an individual i.e., inner feelings and drives of an individual is ignored.
Thus, the external environment of the organization should be designed positively and effectively so as to motivate the employees. This theory is a strong tool for analyzing controlling mechanism for individual’s behavior.
Following are the methods for controlling the behavior of the employees:
- Positive Reinforcement: Positive reinforcement explains that, when an employee gives a positive and a required behavior, the response towards them should be positive. This stimulates the occurrence of a behavior. Reward to an employee who performs well reinforces his/her desire to perform better because of positive results of doing so.
- Negative Reinforcement: Negative reinforcement takes place when certain deterrent(s) or obstruction(s) is removed and the employee(s) responds to a desired behavior after such removal. For instance, an employee who commutes from a long distances wraps up a few projects faster than desired; but, when he is told by the manager to take the projects home for a couple of days and complete them, it stimulates him/her to work as expected. By removing the negative stimuli, the desired behavior is reinforced.
- Punishment: Punishment refers to imposing negative consequences or removing positive consequences with a view to preventing employee(s) from repeating undesirable and uncalled for behaviors. It can, therefore, be both positive and negative.
- Extinction: Extinction refers to extinguishing a learned behavior by withholding a positive reinforcement or reward that has encouraged the behavior.
To conclude, the reinforcement theory revolves round a basic idea that consequences influence behavior. Consequence that brings rewards propels a particular behavior and consequences that give punishment diminish the occurrences of a behavior. Last but not the least, the consequences that give neither reward nor punishment put an end to a behavior. The theory helps the mangers to choose the right method of motivation to motivate their employees basing upon the prevailing situation.
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