HR Word of the Day – Operant Conditioning


Operating conditioning is a type of learning coined by BF Skinner that is based on the premise that learning occurs through consequences of their actions. A desirable behaviour can be enhanced or repeated through positive reinforcement whereas unwanted behaviour can be eliminated through punishment. BF Skinner tested this theory using a lab rat that was put into a cage. By pressing a lever in the cage the rat would receive a treat.

Once the rat had learnt the purpose of the lever, it would directly reach for the lever when put into the cage. This portrayed that positive reinforcement could help develop repeated behavior. Later another rat was put into a different cage. The second cage however was built to give a small electric shock when the lever was pushed. When the rat learnt of the punishment it did not repeat the behaviour of pressing the lever again.
The advantage of using operant conditioning is that organizations can motivate their employees through positive reinforcements. This could include incentive, bonuses and other benefits linked to the performance of the individual. Similarly they can also control undesired behaviour through punishment such as demotion, although most successful organizations use the former.
A disadvantage however is that motivation is only gained through external factors such as a bonus. When the organization stops giving bonuses the desired behaviour will also eventually stop. Therefore operant conditioning is not a permanent motivator.

Have a Great HR Day 😊

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