What Does it Take to Motivate
Employees to Work Safe?
By Carl and Deb Potter
the great debates in workplace safety today is the role of
incentives. Two philosophies seem to exist. One says that workers
will not work safe unless we give them incentives to do so. The
other says that incentives should not be required for workers to do
their jobs without injury. Interestingly, safety and operational
supervisors, managers, and directors who are working hard to find a
way to focus employees on reducing injuries fuel the debate.
Problem with Most Incentive Programs: The biggest problem with
safety incentive programs is that they do not work the way people
expect them to. Programs that reward employees with monetary or
tangible rewards for an expected level of performance are dangerous
when it comes to safety. The reason is this: they tend to cause
under-reporting – particularly when the performance is related
to lagging indicators like reduced incidents or severity rates.
Managers and employees alike confirm this, no matter the
industry. People tend to focus on the reward rather than the
outcome of going home every day without an injury. Under-reporting
causes information to be buried, which can lead to dangerous
behaviors or hazardous situations not being properly addressed.
there are examples of how incentive programs have helped
organizations turn their safety performance from negative to
positive. This may be the case for the short term, but over a
period of time, safety incentive programs become:
about other problems you’ve seen in your own company. What’s going
on with your incentive program – if you have one? It may be time to
consider a different approach.
Recognition over Rewards: Because safety incentive programs can
become routine, ineffective, and irrelevant with the passing of
time, consider that there has to be a better way.
Companies that train and encourage leaders to recognize safe
behavior and positive outcomes have excellent safety cultures.
Rather than the prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach in most
safety incentive programs, recognition is much more personal.
Leaders who are deeply involved in the safety management process can
have the most positive influence above and beyond any other factor.
Recognition goes a long way to motivate workers.
Great Alternatives to Safety Incentive Programs: Rather than try
to “buy” your employees’ commitment to safety with a safety
incentive program, consider these techniques to engage everyone to
take personal responsibility for safety:
Make safety a core value. Safety needs
to be as important to your organization as production and
profits are. Let employees know that no job is so important
that it should be done at personal risk. Start every meeting
with an update from a safety contact.
Commit management to worker safety.
executives, managers, and supervisors are actively engaged in
the organization’s safety efforts, employees will notice.
Leaders can demonstrate their commitment to safety by following
the company’s safe work procedures, listening to and acting upon
employees’ concerns, and actively participating in safety
Involve employees in the safety process.
Encourage employees to take part in making your workplace safe
by including them in safety committees, inspections, accident
investigations, and safety suggestion programs. Give them time
to participate during their regular work hours and recognize
their efforts. And find out what motivates them to work
Set high expectations for safe behavior.
Research shows that employees will usually work hard to meet
their managers’ and supervisors’ expectations. Clearly state
expectations that everyone will follow safety procedures and
wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Managers
and supervisors should also expect employees to identify,
control, and report all hazards found in the workplace.
Allow employees to set their own goals.
Most incentive programs develop around corporate safety
objectives, but employees may resist the proclamations of
executives or managers, especially if the workers consider
management to be out of touch with their day-to-day experiences.
However, employees will respond more positively to setting
their own goals. Give them the autonomy to do this and
encourage them to make it a personal aim to go home each day
Invest in Motivation, not Incentives: Even the most creative
incentive program won’t get you the result you want: a workplace
where nobody gets hurt. Safety incentive programs take money out of
your company’s bottom-line without a significant or sustainable
return on your investment. So instead, make motivation a priority
for executives, managers, and supervisors. Get them to commit to
investing their time and effort to improving their safety and
encourage workers to do the same. That way, each individual becomes
responsible, not only for his or her own safety, but also for that
of everyone in the organization. That way, more people will go home
every day without injury.
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and Deb Potter.
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