Every employee wants to be acknowledged and rewarded for doing good work.

Millennials get a bad rap for being in the “everyone gets a trophy” generation, but what’s wrong with wanting your boss (or anyone) to tell you that you’ve done an excellent job if you’ve done an excellent job?

According to my college Psychology professor (and many other smart people), using positive reinforcement is the best way to change behavior.

Here’s a real-life example where I am using it.

Using positive reinforcement to get what you want

My husband and I are smack dab in the middle of potty training our 3-year-old daughter. Yes, she’s 3, not 2 or 18 months. Please leave us alone, we’re trying!

Anyway, we tell her “good job” every single time she: 

  • walks into the bathroom, 
  • turns on the light, 
  • climbs up on the potty,
  • does her business,
  • flushes, 
  • pulls up her pants, 
  • washes her hands, 
  • and turns off the light when she leaves the bathroom

She’s only been alive on this planet for three years, so I think the fact that she can do all of that on her own is a job well done.

So why not tell her she’s doing a good job? 

The more we give her a chocolate positive reinforcement for good behavior, the more often she takes the initiative to do it independently. Eventually, she won’t need our encouragement at all, and she’ll do it on her own. 

Applying the principles of positive reinforcement at work

As a manager, I try to give out as much positive reinforcement for a job well done as I possibly can. I want everyone who works to feel confident that their work is contributing to the success of the company and their personal career growth.

Of course, I can’t promote a direct report every time they complete a project on time and under budget.

But you know what, if that direct report consistently performs and meets their goals, then yes, they likely deserve a promotion.

And if I’m not able to give it to them (office politics are real y’all!), I would expect them to find a company that will.

After all, how can I expect my employee to keep up the pace of doing good work if they never see any positive reinforcement for their contribution?

Where to start giving positive reinforcement

If you’re looking for where to start spreading your “good jobs,” begin with underperformers. You probably know who they are.

Likely they’re the most in need of a bright spot in their day. Shoot them a “good job” even when they complete the most basic task, and then do it again and again.

Build their confidence and see if their performance or attitude improves.

You certainly don’t have to be a manager to be a good team player. Sometimes there is nothing better than hearing “good job” from your teammates. 

And no, a Slack emoji doesn’t cut it.

It has to come from your lips to their ears. Be genuine in your “good job” spreading. People will like you more.

When you join that Zoom call today, tell someone they’re doing a good job. It’s free, and it makes you feel good too.