Behavior Modification Useful to End a Good Employee's Bad Habits

Article excerpt

When you have a good employee with a bad habit, use behavior modification techniques.

The kind of habit we're talking about doesn't cut productivity - if it did, you'd fire him. The employee is productive, but not as much as he could be. Perhaps it's lateness. Perhaps it's leaving early. Perhaps it's overlong lunch hours. Perhaps it's chatting with other employees and keeping them from getting their work done. But whatever it is, it's got to stop.

In behavior modification, the buzz words are "positive and negative reinforcement." You know them as rewards and punishment. Your errant employee behaves as he does because the payoff he gets is worth the penalty he's paying.

So first decide what he's getting out of it. Maybe it's getting away with something. Maybe it's the covert admiration of co-workers. Maybe it's attention. Maybe it's a feeling of independence.

Next reduce the rewards and increase the penalties. For instance, if he's rewarded by being a hero to his peers, reduce that by docking their pay as well as his for any time they lost because of his antics. They'll get him in line in a hurry.

Finally, increase his incentive for good behavior. If he goes a certain number of days without fouling up, reward him - a little more per hour, a written commendation or the right to move his desk where he's been wanting to.

Central to success is that the employee must know what you're doing and why, so he can see that what happens to him is a direct consequence of his behavior. If he wants to change the consequences, he'll have to change the behavior.

QUESTION: When I graduated last week, I thought I had the job of my dreams. One of the nation's largest manufacturers of aircraft equipment hired me as a technical writer and offered to put me through to a doctorate. Yesterday I read the firm is a takeover target. What are the chances my job will materialize?

ANSWER: The surprising answer is that your chances are very good. Takeovers may be hard on people already employed at the merged company, but most companies honor commitments made to new employees coming aboard. You may find your duties and conditions of employment have changed, however, if the takeover goes through.

Q: In an effort to apply MBO to my life, I'm drawing up salary goals for myself at five-year intervals in the future. People used to say that you should be earning $1,000 for every year of your age, but at 34 and earning $76,000, I'm already more than double that. What would be reasonable goals for me?

A: You're right that that old formula is way out of date. Today salaries increase at continually accelerating rates. You should set your sights at $132,000 by age 40, which is $3,300 for every year of age; $180,000 by age 45, which is $4,000 for every year of age; and $240,000 by age 50, which is $4,800 for every year of age. …