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  • Jeffrey Goldfarb

Carrots and Sticks

Positive Feedback | Business| Pavlov’s Dogs | Buffalo, NY | Certified B Corp

Rewards and Merits

The question of punishment vs reward has long been debated in business practice. Rewarding an employee for their good deeds has been seen as a way to encourage repeated behavior, while ridiculing and humiliating poor behavior has been seen as a way to discourage unproductive habits.

Well, a recent study conducted by a New York hospital and published by Harvard Business Review may be on its way to putting this debate to rest. The study was documented as the hospital attempted to increase its staff’s personal hygiene while on duty.

From 2008-2010, researchers placed cameras at every cleaning station in the hospital to record their staff’s hygienic tendencies. They would give employees a passing mark if they washed their hands and a failing mark if they didn’t wash their hands.[1]

They used a scoreboard in the hallway where all the employees could check in on their score/feedback.[2] The board would compliment those who were meeting the necessary standards giving positive feedback by their name. This scoreboard offering positive feedback replaced previous message boards warning about the dangers of spreading disease and infection.[3]

The results were drastic: “Compliance rates rose sharply and reached almost 90% within four weeks.”[4] Why did positive feedback improve the hospital’s hygiene more effectively, and in a shorter period of time, than their previous warnings?

Well, a neuroscience report cited by the Harvard Business Review showed that in jobs requiring long hours of focus, positive feedback is far more effective than negative feedback.[5] The study and the Harvard Business Review article break the reasoning down into two terms: Go and No-Go.

In a high stress environment an employee will see positive feedback as a go because they want to earn the phrase, where as they will simply ignore or avoid the punishment to escape the consequences.

While the carrot and the stick may continue to be used as joint tools in training, it does appear that a positive environment has a better outcome on overall sustainability. A person will continue to act in the interest of receiving praise, where as they may simply seek alternatives/escapes from the punishment.


[1] https://academic.oup.com/cid/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/cid/cir773

[2] https://hbr.org/2017/09/what-motivates-employees-more-rewards-or-punishments

[3] https://academic.oup.com/cid/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/cid/cir773

[4] https://hbr.org/2017/09/what-motivates-employees-more-rewards-or-punishments

[5] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364661314000205?via%3Dihub

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