Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The (almost) Universal Job

In almost all careers at some point people must deal with the daunting task of managing a team of people. But it needn't be so bad! Applied Behavioural Analysis has the answer…

There will likely be people that you are responsible for who are lazy or uninterested or just plain rubbish at their job. To make your life easier you need a way of changing their behaviour. The law of effect states that in any given situation, the probability of a behaviour occurring is a function of the consequences that behaviour has had, in that situation, in the past. Which basically means that if you want people to work harder you need to either reward them when they do something right, or punish them when they do something wrong; this is a simple way of increasing or decreasing the frequency of a certain behaviour (Arvey & Ivancevich, 1980). There are certain kinds of punishment that you will not be unable to perform in an office, for example physical punishment. However you still have many options; you can reprimand the person, for example with a verbal or written warning. You could also use response cost by telling them they must work that weekend because they didn't get their work in on time. Rewarding good behaviour works just as well, a large bonus at the end of the year will encourage your employee to keep up the good work in the hope that they will get another large bonus next year.


It is important to dish out punishment and reward fairly to each member of the team, Janssen (2010) found that perceptions of unequal effort-reward fairness lead to less innovation from team members. You should also be aware of ‘bootleg reinforcement’; this is when the employee you are punishing also receives positive reinforcement from his other lazy co-worker for being “cool”. Something like this will undermine the reinforcement that you are doing. Some people morally object to controlling an individual’s behaviour in this way, especially if they do not realize what you’re doing. In short, Applied Behaviour Analysis is a powerful tool which should be used wisely.


Arvey, R. D. & Ivancevich, J. A. (1980). Punishment in Organisations: A Review, Propositions, and Research Suggestions. The Academy of Management Review, 5, 123-132.

Janssen, O. (2000). Job demands, perceptions of effort‐reward fairness and innovative work behaviour. Journal of Occupational and organizational psychology73(3), 287-302.

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