Punishment doesn’t work

Posted by on September 22, 2014 in Blog | 1 comment

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For as long as we can remember, throughout our lives, we’ve been punished for something at some stage.

When we were in preschool, we were punished for playing outside too long. In primary school we were scolded for not sitting still enough and in high school we were reprimanded for not doing homework or for talking in class. We’ve been taught from a young age and further throughout our lives that if we do something wrong or undesirable, we’ll face the consequences. In a business setting, this would most likely be behaviour that is a violation of a policy or unsatisfactory work performance.

Punishment can be used as a control tool and a mistaken tool for motivation by managers to prod lower level employees into working and working more effectively.

However, this is not necessarily something that is effective in the long run.

Using punishment as motivation fosters fear in the workplace, which in turn makes employees afraid to take risks. Risk taking is what makes a business grow and have a significantly stronger edge on their market.

By frequently using punishment, employees could start focusing more on what they can lose instead of what they can gain by taking necessary risks. It becomes the default to maintain status quo. Employees will let opportunities pass by, because of their previous experience and they will stick with what they feel they’re good at.

Punishment can also result in being afraid of what others think. Creative solutions are not brought up in meetings or to managers, because the employee does not want to stand out or be singled out of the crowd by having fresh or unusual ideas.

If the outcome of the situation is not known, status quo is again a very comfortable fallback.

Mangers and CEOs alike are stuck in a rut trying to control people’s behavior with negative reinforcement, even though it’s clearly not effective.

In the workplace and in life someone is always telling you what you should not be doing as opposed to telling you what they want you to do.

The mind cannot process a negative idea – it looks for the verb, then the subject in any instruction.

“Don’t think of pink elephants” and you immediately think of pink elephants, which is why punishment as a way of motivation is not effective.

Punishment is only effective in changing what we allow our seniors to know or to see.

Employees become afraid to take risks or come up with creative solutions and end up hiding their actions to avoid being singled out or having to go through some disciplinary steps thus making punishment a way to allow employees to become dishonest.

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1 Comment

  1. I agree with you 100% and am seeing the effects of the “rule by fear” strategy as we speak. There has to be a better way to get the job done.

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