Introduction of Psychology and Ethical Decision Making


Operant conditioning is a behavioral theory written by the well-known psychologist Skinner. This concept is founded on the idea that the learning modifies external behavior. The ups and downs are the results of the person's reply to the events (stimuli) that take place in the environment. The individual will be conditioned to react, when a particular stimulus is reinforced (rewarded).  Thus, reinforcement is the main component of the Stimulus-Response theory. A reinforcer is defined as a thing that intensifies the desired reaction: a feeling of satisfaction or increased accomplishment, an appropriate grade or even a verbal praise. The negative reinforcers result in the increased frequency of the desired reply, when the unfavorable outcome or event are removed.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Operant Conditioning

The theory is beneficial at the workplace in the following way: the annual financial success of a company is defined by the manner of interaction with clients as well as between the employees in the organization.

The productivity, diversity, customer service and project teams are the strengths of operant conditioning at the workplace. The cornerstone of the theory, positive reinforcement, will elicit the desired response, which means the optimal productivity.  It can also be useful in keeping high employee morale that is directly connected with the increased productivity. The operant conditioning paradigm helps the managers avoid the mistakes, while they communicate with the diverse group of employees, and maintain productive and positive relationships, as well. In the realm of customer service, continuous reinforcement can be cooperative, when new workers learn the process. It can make the learning course easier and ensure the rapid pace of receiving the orders. The teams of employees often work together on the same business project in order to achieve a common goal. Operant conditioning keeps all staff being accountable for their actions and rewards the high performing teams. Thus, it helps projects be completed within a set budget and on time.

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Complacency is the main weakness of operant conditioning (Malott & Trojan 2004). For instance, the workers may expect the daily meeting in the case of the substandard work rather than improve their tasks. A sales expert may become satisfied with the first sales bonus instead of reaching the higher level. Negative reinforcement can overcome the complacency by making the negative activity less desirable than earlier. The desire to increase the productivity can be caused by making the daily meeting as the unpaid for the workers. In the case of sale, the sales employees can be not allowed to get paid for the same bonus level for two months in a row. Hence, they will be encouraged to reach the higher standard on a consistent basis. The other significant weakness is that the theory does not always work. The worker can simulate the proper behavior only to receive the reward.

The Impact on the Person

Operant conditioning can be practiced on a large scale to the organizational management, as behavior is rather learned than reflexive in the business. People study the numerous types of behavior before and after joining the organization. Afterwards, they meet the various stimuli in the company that can make them behave in the certain way with the specific consequences (Lutz 2004). The company policies, the corporate structures, the working schedules are examples of stimuli in the workplace. Depending on their value to the business, behavior can be punished or rewarded. The increases of salary, demotions, promotions, disapproval or approval from the coworkers and managers are the consequences of workplace behavior. However, the majority of consequences are only partially depending on the performance (behavior) of the personnel. As a result, there exist the system of relationships between behavior of the worker and its consequences. The application of operant conditioning to the place of work means the control of these relationships, which are termed the schedules of reinforcement (Fagnani).

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The Positive and Negative Consequences

The reinforcement schedules can be partial, intermittent or continuous. The continuous schedules usually contribute to new knowledge or the fast acquisition of new skills. For example, new workers will learn the order processing at the fastest rate, if they are reinforced for the correct work. Though, reinforced behavior might stop, when the continuous schedule is suspended after being realized for some time. Besides, reinforcement includes the negative stimuli such as constant supervision and the positive ones, such as the promotion or raise after the demonstration of workers’ skills.

From time to time, the employers use sanctions as the form of reinforcement, punishing the personnel for the violation of policy or the break of rules. These sanctions serve as the method from engaging the workers in the forbidden activities.

However, negative reinforcement must not be entangled with punishment. Punishment decreases the probability of the act being repeated and comprises the aversive or undesirable consequences. Negative reinforcement is rather the reward that takes away constraints in order to encourage behavior of the employee (Hirsh).

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Negative reinforcement is more operative tool for motivating behavior of the employee than punishment. There are the following negative reinforcement techniques: dealing with the mistakes, drug testing and constant reminding about the high productivity. The same action can consist of both positive and negative reinforcements.

Nevertheless, the negative consequences must be established with the concern of how they will influence the separate worker. Effective punishment is contingent on specific behavior, impersonal, immediate and consistent. Finally, it is informative letting the employee know the reason of punishment. Hence, they must realize that future punishment can be evaded by the refusal of the undesired behavior.

Positive reinforcement takes place, when behavior or the response is strengthened by the addition of something. Verbal encouragement, employee acknowledgement, tangible rewards are the types of positive reinforcement.

The worker can earn employee-of-the-month prizes as the formal acknowledgment from the executive. The superior commander can also tell that he/she appreciates the efforts of the hard and productive work. These kinds of positive reinforcement will show that the worker’s efforts do not go unnoticed and encourage them to keep moving in the same direction. Simple, tangible rewards such as company desk toys, T-shirts, logo pens show that the workers are the valued members of their team and, thus, encourage keeping up their excellent work (Schreiner).

The Theory Experiment

The research of Schriesheim and Hinkin (2004) on 243 workers in two different hospitality organizations revealed that those employees improved their performance, who received feedback from the manager, no matter whether it was negative (corrective) or positive. Moreover, no feedback on good performance reduced worker satisfaction and effectiveness.  This instance illustrates operant conditioning and shows that the totally ignored behavior will be extinguished in the end.


As a part of work behavior modification and reinforcement theory, operant conditioning is useful for the organizational management. Skinner and other behaviorists postulate that the origin for predicting and influencing behavior lies in the reinforcement and the external conditions. Therefore, the organizational management theorists, who approve this method, refer to the environment in order to clarify and affect working behavior. In this case, motivation is viewed not as the internal qualities of the employee, but as a product of the working environment. For instance, the workers become highly motivated for their job, when they are reinforced with promotions, pay raises and other things, which they might find desirable. Negative reinforcement is also the effective tool for motivating behavior of the employees.

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