Punishment in Organizations: Descriptive and Normative Perspectives
Linda Klebe Treviño The Pennsylvania State University
Gary R. Weaver University of Delaware
Punishment is an often used but infrequently studied management tool. We define punishment as "the manager's application of a negative consequence or withdrawal of a positive consequence from someone under his or her supervision" ( Treviño, 1992, p. 649). Given this definition, punishment may include relatively mild actions, such as verbal reprimands, as well as more serious actions, such as withholding a pay raise or bonus, suspending or even terminating an employee. The discussion here begins with a brief review of the once-conventional behaviorist view of punishment in organizations. We then contrast this to current empirical research and theory, which has placed greater emphasis on the context surrounding punishment events and on participants' and observers' cognitive and affective states. Finally, we introduce normative views of punishment adapted from philosophical and criminological writings about punishment in society. These views suggest new ways of thinking about punishment in organizations and new venues for future empirical research.
For many years, the organizational behavior literature represented punishment in organizations from a behaviorist learning theory perspective ( Skinner, 1953). Behaviorist-based punishment studies focused on the punishing