Does Punishment Work?

There is a widespread belief that punishment is the way to
resolve deviations from performance and behavior norms.

Classic Situation:
A group of employees, who are avid outdoors people,
frequently call-in sick on the 1st day of trout season,
the 1st day of deer season, etc.

The typical management response to excessive use of sick
time is to require a doctor’s note (a punishment).  In the
short-term, the use of sick time will decrease and
management will pat itself on the back for being such

Long-term, use of sick time typically doubles because
employees who would have taken only 1 day off to go
hunting, now use the 2nd day to get a doctor’s note and
may use the 3rd day just to retaliate against management.

HR CONTRARIAN POINTER: Punishment hardly ever works.  The
only thing punishment does effectively is stop the
behavior in the short-term.

In fact when people are punished, the common reaction is
to strike back overtly or covertly.

Punishment does not teach people what to do.  It only
teaches what not to do and how not to get punished. 

To resolve thorny problems like absenteeism, managers need
to use a combination of strategies that includes
reinforcing employees for exhibiting the desired

In general, the more a behavior (positive or negative) is
reinforced the more predictable it becomes.

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