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What is positive reinforcement and how to use it for workplace training (with examples)


September 22, 2023



What is positive reinforcement

Have you noticed that most employees are much more productive when they’re in a positive and healthy work environment? Have you noticed that teams are much more motivated when they’re recognized and given well-deserved incentives? Well, that’s just science. In psychology, we might call this positive reinforcement.

In this article, we’ll explore what positive reinforcement is, a little bit of its history, and why it’s such an effective practice to put into your workplaces. We’ll show you some concrete examples and benefits to help training managers apply this to training as soon as they can!

What is positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is a learning strategy that involves rewarding learners for doing well. The theory is that learners will absorb information when it’s attached to a good feeling, memory, or prize. 

In behavioral psychology, positive reinforcement is when a behavior is more likely to be repeated when rewarded. It’s based on the Law of Effect which Edward Thorndike developed in the late 1800s, and later on taken further by B.F. Skinner.

What is positive reinforcement definition

B.F. Skinner simply categorized the kinds of behavior, coining terms like negative/positive reinforcement and negative/positive punishment. This method of learning became what we now know as operant conditioning. In Skinner’s studies, he observed that something following a behavior with something pleasant will increase the chances of that behavior to repeat.

So, at work, if you want your employees to work more productively or learn new things, you can incentivize these behaviors with positive reinforcement. But how exactly do we do that?

Examples of positive reinforcement

Now that we’ve learned the history and logic behind positive reinforcement let’s see some concrete positive reinforcement examples you can use for work and workplace training. Work with your team and find a reinforcement solution that fits each of your employee’s work styles.

Positive reinforcement examples
  • Positive feedback: If you want an employee to repeat good behavior and great performance, give them some productive feedback. Take note of the details, what they did wrong, and what they got right, but stay focused on the positives. Make sure your team knows that they’re on the right track especially when they hit the mark.
  • Recognition: Another great way to repeat great performance is by recognizing achievements. Once you recognize hard work, you can continuously set standards for your team, and those who achieve great work will strive to do their best again and again.
  • Work incentives: Productivity is also affected by external factors like work environment, rest days, and social activities. You can reward high performance with work incentives like additional paid time off, additional work-from-home days, or even control over work assignments.
  • Rewards and prizes: Even adults enjoy prizes for great work! Depending on your company policy, it’s also effective to give financial compensation and real rewards as motivation for performing well.
  • Gamification: Gamification is all about making work fun through gamified elements of work like healthy competition through leaderboards and score systems. This is very effective for training and learning at the workplace!

Benefits of positive reinforcement

It’s always so much easier to encourage good behavior than discourage bad behavior and this can come with great benefits. Aside from more motivated employees, your teams can achieve the following benefits with positive reinforcement:

Positive reinforcement benefits
  • Lower turnover rates: Since employees spend most of their time at work, building a positive work environment makes them want to stay. This is also cost-effective for the organization as it’ll spend less on recruiting, onboarding, and training new employees.
  • Increased productivity: When employees are recognized and rewarded for good behavior, they’re less likely to be stressed and that means boosted productivity. They’re going to be happy to get work done when their eyes are on the prize!
  • Innovation: When teams are satisfied with their performance, they’re gonna want to do more and actively contribute to the growth of their organization. When people are appreciated, well-compensated, and recognized, they’ll continue to push the boundaries!
  • Drive to upskill and grow: Hard-working people love to learn and add new skills to their toolbelt. When there’s positive reinforcement happening, it’ll drive team members to want to learn about different parts of the business or even skills outside of their comfort zones.
  • Better work relationships: Positive reinforcement can happen even outside of management. Your workmates and teammates can promote great performance. And, at a workplace where everyone is positively reinforced, relationships are stronger and work is much better.

How to effectively use positive reinforcement for training

According to the reinforcement psychology definition, there are a lot of ways to effectively use positive reinforcement. You can use this to all your teams and up to your leadership. But, at the end of the day, positive reinforcement is a learning technique that’s most effective for training. So, here are some concrete ways you can use positive reinforcement for training.

  1. Recognize your employees

Employees will know what great performance looks like when you recognize it. This way they can see what to strive for and how to get there. It doesn’t have to be a graded score or an employee-of-the-month kind of thing, even simple shoutouts for great achievements can go a long way.

Examples of positive reinforcement - recognition

And, it’s always a good idea to make it a public announcement to show your teams that they’re valued at work. You can do this at important meetings, events, or even at regular email newsletters.

  1. Don’t be afraid to give out real rewards for accomplishments

Although shoutouts are essential, it never beats giving actual rewards for hard work. For training managers, work with your organization to make sure employees are compensated or rewarded for great performance. Whether or not it’s financial, make sure your teams are getting tangible rewards.

Examples of positive reinforcement - real rewards

Other work benefits like more paid time off or remote work days do wonders for your team’s motivation!

  1. Give honest and constructive feedback

This may seem like a strange thing to reward good performance, but positive reinforcement is about knowing what your employees do right. Giving honest feedback as reinforcement for hard work is a great way to address performance management issues like lack of work motivation or trust between employees.

Examples of positive reinforcement - constructive criticism

Giving honest and constructive feedback shows your teams that you care about their performance whether or not they’re doing well.

  1. Gamify your work

A little healthy competition never hurts anyone! A lot of employees respond well when a little gamification happens at work. For example, having leaderboards for compliance training or using fun games for training materials.

Examples of positive reinforcement - gamification

Quests, missions, and progress meters with real rewards are positive reinforcement in action, so use these methods to encourage activity and performance. 

  1. Use elearning tools

A lot of modern elearning tools were developed and designed with a lot of research done on psychological science. Positive reinforcement is one of the studies designed into many elearning tools. For example, SC Training (formerly EdApp) uses gamification and interactive learning content to engage learners and create positive reinforcement loops to encourage learner engagement.

Examples of positive reinforcement - Elearning tools

So, if you want to learn how to increase learner engagement, try out an elearning tool like SC Training (formerly EdApp). Aside from gamification, you can work with your teams to learn about topics that interest them and see them progress in real time. With this, you can engage in all of the positive reinforcement examples you learned here and see the results of your team’s performance!

Improve your team’s performance today with positive reinforcement. Try it with SC Training (formerly EdApp) and sign up for free!


Alec Bailon

Alec is an eLearning expert for SC Training (formerly EdApp), a pioneer LMS that designs creative mobile workplace training solutions. On the off days, they enjoy cooking, reading, or finding a live show or play to watch.

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