Positive Reinforcement in the Workplace: Definition, Examples & Effects

Positive Reinforcement in the Workplace: Definition, Examples & Effects
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  • 0:03 Definition
  • 0:20 Why So Positive?
  • 1:26 Examples
  • 3:26 Application
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shauna Kelley
Positive reinforcement is both a management style and motivational tool that supervisors can use to encourage employees to be more productive. Learn more about this practice and how it is used in the workplace.


Positive reinforcement is the practice of praising good effort in the workplace instead of, or in addition to, criticizing bad effort. This is a tool managers can use to motivate their employees to work well and fulfill their managers' expectations.

Why So Positive?

When you were in high school, did you have a teacher that just seemed to only see what you did wrong? All of his or her comments on your work were critical, and even if you earned a good grade, he or she always pointed out where you could have done better. How did you feel going into that class?

Now think of a teacher that always praised your efforts, even when you didn't do as well as you had hoped. This teacher perhaps put smiley faces on your papers, or wrote encouraging notes when you missed that mark. Did you feel differently going into that class?

The difference between these two teachers is likely not their knowledge or even that one is nicer than the other. The key difference between the teachers is that one relied on negative reinforcement, or criticizing and pointing out the bad rather than positive reinforcement, or praising the good. Chances are that you felt much more supported and were much more enthusiastic about going to the class with a teacher who relied on positive reinforcement.

This applies to the workplace as well. Research shows that employees who feel valued and important are more motivated, productive, engaged, and happy. Positive reinforcement builds these feelings in employees.


Consider the following scenarios involving Sally, a receptionist at a medical office, and her supervisor Jane. Think about what impact each option would have on Sally's work:

Scenario One

  • Sally has to complete weekly reports. Her latest one showed great insight and provided information that will help Jane make some important changes.
    • Jane's first possible response: Jane simply thanks Sally for the report.
    • Jane's second possible response: 'Sally, this is fantastic work. I really appreciate the insight you've offered here.'

Clearly, completing the report is part of Sally's job. Jane is not obligated to comment on the quality of the work, as in the first response; however, in the second response, she offers praise and calls out that she recognizes the extra effort that went into the work. Thus, Sally sees that extra effort is acknowledged.

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