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How to Change Employee Behavior

October 3, 2013

One of the things that HR professionals, I/O Psychologists and organizations as whole struggle with on a daily basis is changing our behaviors or the behaviors of our employees. For instance, these could be performance-related behaviors, safety-related behaviors or any other behaviors observed in the workplace. Organizations should really focus on two kinds of factors to change their employees’ behavior, whether that be with a reward structure of their choosing or the way that they’re providing feedback to employees.

Employees are going to inevitably repeat behaviors for which they are rewarded. For example, if an employee is rewarded for their productivity, he or she is going to focus on productive behaviors and, as a result, this will help to drive productivity. If an employee is rewarded on safety, he or she is going to focus on those safety behaviors – after all, that’s where the rewards come from –  and you’ll observe employees repeating behaviors that are more safety-oriented and promote safety in the workplace. It’s important for organizations to find that balance between their organizational goals and their reward structure and try to promote the behaviors that will reward their employees and allow them to achieve those organizational goals in the end.

Another piece that is really important for changing employee behavior is immediate, on-the-job feedback that individuals can identify while they’re performing the behavior. It’s important for supervisors to really observe their employees to make sure that they’re identifying positive and negative behaviors and intervening immediately to identify what they did right, what they did wrong, and what they may be able to do the next time to improve that behavior.

By putting together these two pieces, a reward structure and immediate positive and negative feedback, we can help to change an employee’s behavior and really give the person a good idea of what the organization is looking for in terms of their day-to-day behaviors. The more often we’re able to do this, the more often we’re going to see these behaviors and the more likely they are to become part of their day-to-day lives. This empowers the employee to behave accordingly without constant feedback or rewards.

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Steven Jarrett, Ph.D. Steven Jarrett, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. He has extensive experience developing, implementing, and validating legally defensible selection solutions for organizations. Steven has worked in a variety of industries including manufacturing, retail, healthcare and education.