Negative Reinforcement Gets Results but are they Always Good?

My boss is on my back…AGAIN! There are multiple opinions about the effect of having a boss persistently repeat themselves, nag, reprimand their employees or removing an aversive stimulus. In organizational behaviour such situations are referred to as “Negative Re-enforcement” or a psychological tool of motivation.  In his book Organisational Behaviour, Nair claims that often times managers utilize negative re-enforcement when an employee fails to perform desirably or necessary, as the procedure increases the likelihood of the desired behaviour to occur (Nair, 214).

Below is an example of Negative reinforcement:

Bob plays computer games during his work time —> The manager notices Bob wasting time and therefore she starts monitoring Bob closely aka. “she’s always on his back”. —> Bob no longer plays video games and during work hours he focuses on the tasks expected of him.

In the above scenario, Bob’s work performance met the manager’s requirement once she started monitoring him. Therefore, from her experience, monitoring Bob gets him to perform his tasks desirably; therefore, she will continue to do it.

In the article “Examples of Negative Reinforcement in the Workplace”, Hirsh explains that negative reinforcement, such as nagging an employee improves performance, but it is not the best motivator. This is an argument, I have come to agree with. As Hirsh explains in her article, nagging or use of other negative reinforcement methods may generate and improve work performance, however, it does not encourage employees to strive beyond the minimum levels required. Having worked in retail where employees had sales targets, I’ve noticed many unhappy sales associates, who were annoyed by the manager’s persistent demands. Those sales associates believed the manager was being annoying and stressing them out. Therefore, they would meet their sales target and relax the remainder of their shift by either socializing and pretending to be busy, or by transferring their annoyance and negative energy to their customers.

Apart from minimal performance, negative reinforcement is capable of creating a stressful environment. In his book, Nair states that “at excessive levels of stress, [employees’] performance will be low because they may be too agitated or aroused to give their best to the job” (Nair, 262). I too agree that stress is capable of interfering with performance, as employees may become paranoid about performing their duties sufficiently or they just dread going to work and having their employer constantly monitoring them.

Although negative reinforcement is a good motivator, it does have negative effects, why then do you believe it is used in the work force? Do you agree or disagree with the use of negative reinforcement?

~ C.C


Media, D. (n.d.). Examples of Negative Reinforcement in the Workplace | Small Business – Small Business – Retrieved May 16, 2012, from

Nair, D.C. (2010). Organisational Behaviour. Mumbai, IND: Global Media

One thought on “Negative Reinforcement Gets Results but are they Always Good?

  1. Hi,

    Great post. A few things I really liked about your post was how it was visually appealing and easy to read. For example, the funny comic helped bring me in as a reader. I also find it very helpful that you posed some questions at the end of your post. I was already asking some of those questions in my head, but it helped put those thoughts in my mind into succinct questions.

    But before I can answer those questions, I first wanted to clarify my understand of the term “negative reinforcement”. I learned about this term and in Psychology 1100 at Kwantlen a few semesters ago, so pardon me if my understand is a bit off. From what I recall, the “negative” in negative reinforcement means taking something away to encourage a desired behaviour. It does not mean it is a good or bad thing. This is the definition I found on

    “Negative reinforcement involves strengthening a behavior through the removal of an aversive stimulus. People often confuse negative reinforcement with punishment, but the two are not the same. Remember, reinforcement is used to increase the likelihood that a behavior will reoccur, while punishment is used to decrease a behavior.” (

    In regards to nagging in the workplace, I would agree with the article you read. It’s not the most effective technique to motivate employees. The nagging is a negative condition created by the manager, so the manager would not be liked or trusted by the employee. However, negative reinforcement can be a good way to motivate an employee. For example, if an employee has an unfavourable restriction, such as a “probation period” status, a manager can remove this if an employee performs exceptionally well. Here’s another example I’ve thought of, junior employees at a company must work graveyard shifts every weekend for 3 months. One of these employees has told their manager they don’t prefer these shifts. If this employee works exceptionally well, his/her manager can take away these shifts to encourage the employee’s good work. That is an example of negative reinforcement which I find to be very motivating.

    With that being said, I think negative reinforcement can be good or bad in the workplace. It depends on the situation.

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