Positive Reinforcement at Work


Everyone appreciates receiving positive feedback. It makes us feel valued and appreciated. From childhood, through school and university, and into the workplace, positive reinforcement is utilised to help people learn and grow.

There are ways that you can deliver positive feedback or reinforcement that are far more effective than others. Let’s look at the best practices for giving positive reinforcement.


Positive Reinforcement at Work

When I first began managing teams in the workplace, I was lucky enough to have some great colleagues with strong working relationships. I tried to practice positive reinforcement whenever possible, to continue these healthy relationships. Because my team members were so open with one another, I was able to learn a very valuable lesson about my feedback early on.

I can distinctly remember one of my team members telling me, after I had provided some positive feedback, “this feedback is great, but can you be more specific?” I learned a great lesson from that. Vague positive feedback isn’t really feedback at all. Telling someone “good job,” doesn’t really give them any information to work with. You need to let your peers know what they did to earn this feedback.


Be Specific

So my first best practice with regards to positive reinforcement is to be specific. Let your colleagues know how their work has benefitted the organisation. Point out specific tactics or changes that they implemented, and why they were beneficial.

Your team should know that you understand their role and the work that they do. If you realise that you don’t have enough knowledge to be detailed and specific, then you need to address your understanding of your team and their roles. You should know enough to tell each of your team members how their behaviour impacts your collective achievement of team goals.

You should also let your team know, again with specifics, how their positive behaviours will impact their own careers. We can’t always make promises about career trajectory or upcoming pay raises, but you should be able to speak on each of your team members specific career paths. Get to know your team and their individual goals. Include in your reinforcement how their behaviour is actively helping them achieve those goals.


Words and Rewards

Tell your team members how you plan to help them achieve those goals as well! If it’s a raise or promotion that they’re after, tell them how you are putting in a good word to your supervisors or colleagues. Reward your team for their positive impact with more than just a thank you. Offer something in return when your team goes above and beyond.

Maybe, when someone hits a positive milestone you cater lunch for the group, from a restaurant of that team member’s choice. Maybe you reward a team member for going beyond the call of duty by letting them take an extra day off, or leave off early on a Friday.

Ask your employees what would really resonate with them. Don’t go off assuming everyone will be happy with the same thing. (I’ve seen this mistake made by giving a bottle of wine to each member of an organisation, forgetting that some people don’t like wine, and others may be in recovery from alcohol addiction. This caused a lot of head-shaking among staff.)


Provide Timely Feedback

Provide your specific feedback in a timely manner. When someone accomplishes something great, don’t wait around to reinforce that behaviour. As soon as you know the positive effects of someone’s work, bring that information to them.

Too often, we wait until prescribed times to provide feedback. Giving feedback during things like yearly reviews is beneficial, and it’s great to have time set aside to have those conversations, but they are not enough on their own. We need to be providing feedback throughout the year, throughout the week, sometimes even multiple times throughout the day.


Ongoing Feedback

The feedback you provide should be continual, and contextual. By providing ongoing feedback, you allow your team to understand their own growth, and identify patterns in their work. By giving feedback both in the moment throughout the year, you are able to create context for the larger conversations during annual reviews. If you aren’t sure whether your peers are fully understanding your feedback, make the time to ask them.

Many companies are starting to embrace the role of on-the-spot feedback in addition to longer-term recognition. The great thing about it is that you can implement these strategies on day one. Try for yourself. Think about a recent, positive event at work. What positive, specific, and still timely feedback could you provide to your peers? If you can’t think of something right now, keep your eyes and ears open the next time you are in the office. You’ll notice, or remember something.



Giving constructive, positive feedback is a great way to boost morale and keep your team on track towards their goals. The feedback you provide should be specific and timely. If you are diligent about providing specific feedback, your feedback will also be continual.

Make sure that the different pieces of feedback you provide throughout the year make sense in context. Use yearly reviews to discuss the aggregated feedback from the year and goals for next year. Annual reviews shouldn’t be surprises, because you’ve been keeping your team in the know all year long. If you haven’t been on your game with regards to feedback, you can start immediately!