Picture this: you are the branch manager of a consultancy firm which is struggling to meet the demands of the clients. Head office reassures you that you have enough manpower to cope. The problem is your staff are unprofessional, lazy and often waste the day browsing the internet for possible holiday destinations or stalking their exes on Facebook. Unfortunately due to strict employment laws it is difficult to simply fire them and instead employ talented and driven university students, from let’s say Warwick University. So you begin to consider how you could influence your staff to exhibit more desirable behaviour (completing their work to a high standard efficiently) and reduce undesirable behaviour (Facebook browsing). The answer: Applied Behaviour Analysis.
So let’s start with how you could try to increase desired behaviour. Positive reinforcement is a vital instrument- you need to praise or reward staff when they do produce high quality reports within an appropriate timescale. This can be done by verbal praise (from you as the manager), social recognition (employee of the month) or financial reward (a pay-for-performance or bonus system). Sears Department Store offered their staff a bonus on their monthly pay check for every customer credit card application they processed and this worked to increase the number application completed (because the staff we more motivated to encourage customers to set up an account). A meta-analysis of a large body of previous research found a consistent connection between the implementation of a pay-for-performance method and improved performance (Locke et al. 1980). Either of these types of financial rewards may be appropriate within your company. The crucial aspect of positive reinforcement is that it has to be sufficiently rewarding to the individual to result in behaviour change so therefore it may be worth consulting with your employees to gauge what type of reward they would value more.
Although hopefully if the positive reinforcement is successful your staff should have less time to waste on the internet it might be beneficial to target reducing this undesirable behaviour. I would suggest using reprimanding and response cost to do this.
Reprimanding means providing expressions of disproval- so you as the manager would tell off the member of staff for spending their time on non-work related websites and may even issue them with a warning (highlighting that their behaviour could result in disciplinary actions). If their online activity did result in disciplinary action (e.g. demotion or dismissal) this would be an example of a response cost. According to Greer and Labig (1987), who surveyed over a hundred firms, employees agree that fair reprimands are important within an organisation to encourage a professional work ethic.
I have lightly touched on some key techniques available to improve the performance of employees and reduce their internet habits- but only by trying them out within the specific organisation will you really know how effective they can be.
By Alex Bamsey
Greer, C. R., & Labig, C. E. (1987). Employee reactions to disciplinary action. Human Relations, 40(8), 507-524.
Locke, E. A., Feren, D. B., McCaleb, V. M., Shaw, K.N. & Denny, A.T. (1980). The relative effectiveness of four ways of motivating employee performance. In Changes in Working Life, ed. K.D. Duncan, M. M. Gruenberg and
D Wallis, pp. 363– 88. New York: Wiley
Sears Department Store: http://www.trainingindustry.com/leadership/articles/positive-reinforcement-in-the workplace.aspx