In my last post, I discussed the importance of using reinforcement strategies for increasing positive employee behaviors in the workplace. This post will address more specifics of how to find reinforcers.

As mentioned in the other post, it is important to clearly define the behaviors that you want to see in your employees.

Secondly, supervisors and managers need to decide on what is likely to serve as reinforcers for their employees, which can be a difficult task. As Daniels and Bailey state in their book, Performance Management (2014), two common questions from supervisors are “How do you choose good reinforcers?” and “What do you do if you don’t have any money for reinforcers?”

One thing to consider when trying to identify reinforcers is to consider what your employees want, desire, and/or value. Although these stimuli may not serve as reinforcers (people may not perform optimally for them), they give you a good place to start. In this activity, though, it is important not to think that other people want what you want.

One type of reinforcer that almost all people respond to is expressions of appreciation for good work (Daniels & Bailey, 2014).

According to Daniels and Bailey (2014), there are three methods of identifying reinforcers. They are:

  1. Asking
  2. Observing
  3. Testing

It is helpful to talk to people about themselves. People often appreciate the attention that another person gives them when the other person truly listens to what they are saying. Talking to someone about who they are and not just about work can help you identify potential reinforcers.

Another strategy is to ask people what they prefer in the workplace or what they wish could be improved about their work experience. For example, some employees prefer working alone and others prefer working near coworkers. Some workers want to take breaks more frequently and some may want an extra day off here and there.

Using a reinforcer survey may help you to get more information about an employees preferences. Daniels and Bailey provide an example of a reinforcer survey on page 175 of their book Performance Management (see the link below to view the book on Amazon). One important thing to remember about using reinforcement surveys, though, is that you should have a positive relationship with your employees before having them complete the survey or else they might be suspicious of your efforts.

Try some of these tips for improving your employees’ work performance. If you have other suggestions for how to improve employee performance, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.



Daniels, A. C. & Bailey, J. S. (2014). Performance Management: Changing Behavior That Drives Organizational Effectiveness; Fifth Edition, Revised.

image credit: Sean McEntee via Fotalia