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Jansar Akhtar

Reinforcement Theory

Reinforcement theory of motivation was proposed by BF Skinner and his associates. It states that individual’s behaviour is a function of its consequences. It is based on "law of effect”, i.e., individual’s behaviour with positive consequences tends to be repeated, but individual’s behaviour with negative consequences tends not to be repeated.

Reinforcement theory of motivation overlooks the internal state of 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 behaviour.

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


Positive Reinforcement- This implies giving a positive response when an individual shows positive and required behaviour. For example - Immediately praising an employee for coming early for job. This will increase probability of outstanding behaviour occurring again. Reward is a positive reinforce, but not necessarily. If and only if the employees’ behaviour improves, reward can said to be a positive reinforcer. Positive reinforcement stimulates occurrence of a behaviour. It must be noted that more spontaneous is the giving of reward, the greater reinforcement value it has.


Negative Reinforcement- This implies rewarding an employee by removing negative / undesirable consequences. Both positive and negative reinforcement can be used for increasing desirable / required behaviour.


Punishment- It implies removing positive consequences so as to lower the probability of repeating undesirable behaviour in future. In other words, punishment means applying undesirable consequence for showing undesirable behaviour. For instance - Suspending an employee for breaking the organizational rules. Punishment can be equalized by positive reinforcement from alternative source.


Extinction- It implies absence of reinforcements. In other words, extinction implies lowering the probability of undesired behaviour by removing reward for that kind of behaviour. For instance - if an employee no longer receives praise and admiration for his good work, he may feel that his behaviour is generating no fruitful consequence. Extinction may unintentionally lower desirable behaviour.


Implication of reinforcement theory

Reinforcement theory explains in detail how an individual learns behaviour. 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 correct. They must tell the employees how they can achieve positive reinforcement.

Job Design Theory

Workers are motivated by jobs in which they feel they can make a difference. Job Design refers to the way tasks are combined to form complete jobs. Job Design principles results in clear job descriptions, a motivated workforce and successful completion of tasks. It ensures that both employer and employee have shared understanding of the work to be done. It has been  developed to face the challenges associated with employing a large number of people in a wide variety of capacities.

This theory has five main characteristics:

Skill variety: People are assigned to a job because they are perceived to be able to fill its requirements.

Task identity: Many tasks, or a reduced number of tasks, depending on ability, time allotment and other constraints.

Task significance: Look at how various functions/components/tasks are carried out to achieve the mission/mandate.

Autonomy: It refers to the degree of control a worker has over the performance of tasks and assignments.

Feedback: It is direct response, positive or negative, to an activity performed in the interest of the organization, it is better if it comes directly from the source.

Job assigned to the worker should match with his skill and area of interest. Firstly, the task should be identified and afterwards, it should be assigned. To improve the performance, right job to right person should be allotted. Job allotted should give satisfaction to the worker, otherwise the worker will not take much interest and his/her performance will go down. Job choosing opportunity should be to the employee. Proper feedback should be taken to find out the problem, if any. Job design should lead to higher performance of the worker.

Job Characteristics Model (JCM)

The Job Characteristics Model, developed by organizational psychologists J. Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham, is a normative approach to job enrichment. It specifies five core job dimensions that will lead to critical psychological states in the individual employee. The first three dimensions are:

  • (a) skill variety (the range of tasks performed),
  • (b) task identity (the ability to complete the whole job from start to finish), and
  • (c) task significance (the impact of the job on others).


Skill varietyskill varietyThe extent to which the job requires a person to utilize multiple high-level skills. refers to the extent to which the job requires a person to utilize multiple high-level skills. A car wash employee whose job consists of directing customers into the automated car wash demonstrates low levels of skill variety, whereas a car wash employee who acts as a cashier, maintains carwash equipment, and manages the inventory of chemicals demonstrates high skill variety.

Task identitytask identityThe degree to which a person is in charge of completing an identifiable piece of work from start to finish. refers to the degree to which a person is in charge of completing an identifiable piece of work from start to finish. A Web designer who designs parts of a Web site will have low task identity, because the work blends in with other Web designers’ work; in the end it will be hard for any one person to claim responsibility for the final output. The Web master who designs an entire Web site will have high task identity.

Task significancetask significanceWhether a person’s job substantially affects other people’s work, health, or well-being. refers to whether a person’s job substantially affects other people’s work, health, or well-being. A janitor who cleans the floors at an office building may find the job low in significance, thinking it is not a very important job. However, janitors cleaning the floors at a hospital may see their role as essential in helping patients get better. When they feel that their tasks are significant, employees tend to feel that they are making an impact on their environment, and their feelings of self-worth are boosted.

AutonomyautonomyThe degree to which people have the freedom to decide how to perform their tasks. is the degree to which a person has the freedom to decide how to perform his or her tasks. As an example, an instructor who is required to follow a predetermined textbook, covering a given list of topics using a specified list of classroom activities, has low autonomy. On the other hand, an instructor who is free to choose the textbook, design the course content, and use any relevant materials when delivering lectures has higher levels of autonomy. Autonomy increases motivation at work, but it also has other benefits. Giving employees autonomy at work is a key to individual as well as company success, because autonomous employees are free to choose how to do their jobs and therefore can be more effective. They are also less likely to adopt a "this is not my job” approach to their work environment and instead be proactive (do what needs to be done without waiting to be told what to do) and creative. The consequence of this resourcefulness can be higher company performance. For example, a Cornell University study shows that small businesses that gave employees autonomy grew four times more than those that did not. Giving employees autonomy is also a great way to train them on the job. For example, Gucci’s CEO Robert Polet points to the level of autonomy he was given while working at Unilever PLC as a key to his development of leadership talents. Autonomy can arise from workplace features, such as telecommuting, company structure, organizational climate, and leadership style.

FeedbackfeedbackThe degree to which people learn how effective they are being at work. refers to the degree to which people learn how effective they are being at work. Feedback at work may come from other people, such as supervisors, peers, subordinates, and customers, or it may come from the job itself. A salesperson, who gives presentations to potential clients but is not informed of the clients’ decisions, has low feedback at work. If this person receives notification that a sale was made based on the presentation, feedback will be high.

The relationship between feedback and job performance is more controversial. In other words, the mere presence of feedback is not sufficient for employees to feel motivated to perform better. In fact, a review of this literature shows that in about one-third of the cases, feedback was detrimental to performance.  In addition to whether feedback is present, the sign of feedback (positive or negative), whether the person is ready to receive the feedback, and the manner in which feedback was given will all determine whether employees feel motivated or demotivated as a result of feedback.

According to the job characteristics model, the presence of these five core job dimensions leads employees to experience three psychological states: They view their work as meaningful, they feel responsible for the outcomes, and they acquire knowledge of results. These three psychological states in turn are related to positive outcomes such as overall job satisfaction, internal motivation, higher performance, and lower absenteeism and turnover. Research shows that out of these three psychological states, experienced meaningfulness is the most important for employee attitudes and behaviors, and it is the key mechanism through which the five core job dimensions operate.

Are all five job characteristics equally valuable for employees? Hackman and Oldham’s model proposes that the five characteristics will not have uniform effects. Instead, they proposed the following formula to calculate the motivating potential of a given job.

MPS = ((Skill variety + task variety + task significance)/3) × autonomy × feedback

According to this formula, autonomy and feedback are the more important elements in deciding motivating potential compared to skill variety, task identity, or task significance. Moreover, note how the job characteristics interact with each other in this model. If someone’s job is completely lacking in autonomy (or feedback), regardless of levels of variety, identity, and significance, the motivating potential score will be very low.

Note that the five job characteristics are not objective features of a job. Two employees working in the same job may have very different perceptions regarding how much skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, or feedback the job affords. In other words, motivating potential is in the eye of the beholder. This is both good and bad news. The bad news is that even though a manager may design a job that is supposed to motivate employees, some employees may not find the job to be motivational. The good news is that sometimes it is possible to increase employee motivation by helping employees change their perspective about the job. For example, employees laying bricks at a construction site may feel their jobs are low in significance, but by pointing out that they are building a home for others, their perceptions about their job may be changed.

Do all employees expect to have a job that has a high motivating potential? Research has shown that the desire for the five core job characteristics is not universal. One factor that affects how much of these characteristics people want or need is growth need strengthgrowth need strengthThe degree to which a person has higher order needs, such as self-esteem and self-actualization.. Growth need strength describes the degree to which a person has higher order needs, such as self-esteem and self-actualization. When an employee’s expectation from his job includes such higher order needs, employees will have high-growth need strength, whereas those who expect their job to pay the bills and satisfy more basic needs will have low-growth need strength. Not surprisingly, research shows that those with high-growth need strength respond more favorably to jobs with a high motivating potential. It also seems that an employee’s career stage influences how important the five dimensions are. For example, when employees are new to an organization, task significance is a positive influence over job satisfaction, but autonomy may be a negative influence.

Social Information Processing (SIP) Model   

The Social Information Processing Model of perception describes four processing stages that include selective attention and comprehension, encoding and simplification, storage and retention, and retrieval and response.  In the first stage, the person becomes aware of something or someone based on stimuli factors that might include the size, intensity, novelty, and repetition of the stimuli, or the degree the stimuli is salient to their needs.  Encoding and simplification is how different people interpret environmental stimuli differently based on previously developed cognitive categories and schema.  Cognitive categories help us classify, simplify, and distinguish among objects, while schemata are cognitive scripts that provide general ideas about situations.  Storage and retention refer to encoding information into the three compartments of long-term memory.  Retrieval and response, is the retrieval of information from memory to make judgments and decisions about situations.

 In the firm I work at, it is generally understood that employees are a hardy bunch and are expected to work relatively autonomously.  Employees receive salient stimuli from many sources and the firm is working hard to develop cultural norms that include increased job training to help employees address these stimuli.  Corporate culture change to reflect societal cultural changes have been difficult for the firm due to the age of the employees and the firm’s history of past attempts to change the culture.  Employees, most having over 25 year’s seniority, have been through several iterations of culture change and are suspicious of any new programs intended to increase their job skills.  These senior employees have developed cognitive categories and schema’s to address management’s attempts to make effective changes in the firm including the use of the union to encourage other employees to not participate in the new job training programs.  

 Newer employees, those with less than 25 years seniority, came into the firm understanding concepts like skill transferability and self-improvement and therefore handle change requests much differently than the more senior employees.  These employees believe that they alone control their own destiny and they embrace the opportunity to increase their job skills.  While not all employees fall neatly into one category or the other, there clearly are two categories in the firm and there are strong feelings on both sides regarding job improvement training programs.  

 Many years ago the firm learned of employees entrenched feeling toward increasing their job skills.  To address this problem partially, the firm introduced continual learning in the job orientation phase for new employees.  While the firm may be unable to convince all employees that continual learning will benefit them, new employees are embracing the idea and eventually old cognitive categories and schema associated with increasing job skills may be changed.

Category: My articles | Added by: Jansar (2011-02-08)
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