Behavioral Brief: Staff Motivation and Reinforcement Procedures

Direct service staff are an essential component of human service organizations. The work they do directly impacts the treatment clients receive. It is important for human service organizations to ensure direct service staff are motivated. Motivation may be generally defined as staff working hard and enjoying their work (Reid & Parsons, 2006). The supervisor’s role in motivation is vital. Supervisors should adopt a management system that confirms staff are working diligently and enjoy the work they do. If they are, everyone benefits; consumers receive quality treatment, organizations struggle less with staff turnover, and employees enjoy their work (Reid & Parsons, 2006).

Reinforcement of desired work behavior fits very nicely into motivation. Reinforcement can work in two general ways; staff can work to avoid something bad (e.g., getting written up or fired) or they can work for a reward (e.g., praise, time off, extra privileges). If we had to choose, having staff work for a reward usually leads to better outcomes. When staff avoid something bad, they do enough work just to get by or bare minimum work. When staff are working towards a reward, often we see a high quality of work, and they go above and beyond (Daniels, 1999).

There are many ways to reinforce desired work behaviors. You should be careful of those that may not result in desired change; the most popular would be an employee of the month program. These programs usually have vague criteria for winning, staff generally can’t describe how to win, and because there is only one winner, the desired behavior of non-winners goes unnoticed (Johnson & Dickinson, 2010). Lottery systems on the other hand, if designed correctly can build up desired work behavior. Wine et al. (2017) used a lottery system with two teaching assistants and found that under certain conditions (odds of winning) the teaching assistants performed better compared to when there was no lottery system in place.

It benefits everyone if human service organizations make strides towards motivating their staff. Respective organizations should adopt a model that supports and builds desired work behavior and motivation in direct service staff. A lottery system can help those goals be met and allow them to continue to grow. It also has the flexibility to accommodate different staff preferences and the financial limitations some organizations may have.   


Daniels, A. C. (1999). Bringing out the best in people: McGraw Hill Professional.

Johnson, D. A., & Dickinson, A. M. (2010). Employee-of-the-Month Programs: Do They Really Work? Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 30(4), 308-324.

Reid, D. H., & Parsons, M. B. (2006). Motivating human service staff: Supervisory strategies for maximizing work effort and work enjoyment: Habilitative Management Consultants.

Wine, B., Edgerton, L., Inzana, E., & Newcomb, E. T. (2017). Further Effects of Lottery Odds on Responding. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 37(1), 75-82.