Praise and social recognition of people exhibiting preferred behaviors create role models for others to emulate. Tangible awards given in the spirit of friendly competition can enhance engagement and participation.

Safety Incentives: Why One Size Does Not Fit All

It's finding the right blend of motivators that makes the difference between a successful program and one that just bumps along.

Recently, a truck hauling 7,500 pounds of hagfish, also known as "slime eels," was making its way through a construction zone on an Oregon highway. The driver didn't accurately anticipate a complete stop in traffic, but when it suddenly halted, he had to hit the brakes. The load shifted abruptly, causing the hagfish containers to "fly across the highway," according to the Oregon State Police, and cause a chain-reaction crash involving four other vehicles and an extremely slimy mess on the highway.

Safety isn't just a driver issue, and safety concerns encompass many types of workplaces. Wherever people are working, safety issues can be prevalent and devastating. OSHA is working to set and enforce safety standards as well as provide training, outreach, education, and assistance to help companies reduce fatalities and injuries on the job.

So what can a company do to motivate their people to keep themselves—and others—safe? Implementing a safety program for your company is one thing, but getting your employees to keep their eyes open, stay compliant, and be motivated to participate in safe behaviors (and keep slimy fish off the road) can be a challenge. Here are a few tips.

Know Your Audience
Knowing that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to safety incentive programs is a good first step. Your program needs to consider the targeted employee segment. Is it focused on one particular segment (role, region), or is it your whole employee base?

Each employee segment is further defined by its demographics (age, gender, income, education) and its psychographics (attitudes, aspirations, lifestyle). Simply put, every individual has different behaviors to perform or processes to follow to stay safe. Understanding the complexities of your employee segments and what motivates them both from an intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) perspective will inform the design of your safety incentive program.

What Are Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators?
Intrinsic motivation happens when performing an activity that is personally rewarding rather than having the desire for an external award—things such as participating in a sport because it's fun or solving a problem because it's interesting. We are intrinsically motivated by having a sense of belonging, social contact, learning new information, achieving mastery in our job or the feeling of autonomy at work. Corporate communications and training/education is necessary in appealing to intrinsic motivators.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, occurs because we want to behave or engage in an activity in order to earn a reward or avoid a punishment. For example, participating in a sport to win a big trophy or competing in a sales contest to win a group travel event to Spain. Extrinsic motivation is driven by competition, praise, tangible awards, benefits we receive at work, and even fear of failure. A centralized employee initiative platform is a good vehicle to administer and manage extrinsic motivators.

Each of us is motivated differently. Because we’re human beings, we experience and react to economic and personal decision-making according to what’s happening in our environment, our relationships, and even how we feel each day. Behavioral economics is a vast and context-dependent science. What is recognized by the scientific community, however, is the fact that people are motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically; sometimes in tandem, sometimes one way more than the other. It's finding the right blend of motivators that makes the difference between a successful program and one that just bumps along.

What Is the Right Mix of Motivators?
In his book "Payoff," behavioral economist Dan Ariely puts it this way: "Because motivation is a part of almost everything we do, and because it influences and sustains virtually every aspect of our lives, it is impossible to come up with one simple set of motivational rules."

However, he goes on to point out that asking questions about the motivational facets of a target audience is important. Asking questions such as "where do my employees excel already?" and "where don't they need any additional motivation?" will help clarify a starting point in designing an appropriate incentive program.

Your safety incentive program should include intrinsic motivators that appeal to your employees, such as having sense of belonging in the organization by participating in a safety program or mastery of the skills needed to stay safe. Employees must understand that safety initiatives can be successful only if everyone is educated and knows what to do. They need to know they are an integral part of a whole system in achieving a safe workplace in order to become more engaged in your safety efforts.

You can further strengthen motivation by also weaving in extrinsic motivators. Praise and social recognition of people exhibiting preferred behaviors create role models for others to emulate. Tangible awards given in the spirit of friendly competition can enhance engagement and participation. Blending intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in your safety incentive programs can be—and should be—implemented in your other performance improvement instances, as well.

Conducting an Internal Assessment
To motivate your employees to participate at a high level in your safety program, assess your current safety incentive program or, if you don't have one, consider and answer these questions to get started.

1. What do I know about the employees I want in the safety program? What are the demographics, psychographics, and commonalities?

2. Where do my employees excel already? Where don't they need any additional motivation? Where do they struggle and need an extra boost? What types of additional motivations would work best?

3. What specific behaviors do I want my employees to exhibit in order for the work environment to become safer? What current behaviors are being rewarded, and are they consistent with my safety program requirements and federal regulations?

4. What has (or hasn't) motivated my employees to participate in our safety programs in the past? Do I have a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators woven into my safety incentive programs?

5. What behaviors are currently being tracked, measured, and/or reported that are relevant to our safety initiatives?

6. How are safety best practices currently being communicated? What works and what hasn't worked well in communicating to my employees?

7. How do I track whether or not an employee is in compliance? Is there a significant difference between employees or regions in this regard?

8. Is there a safety training program in place for each employee? Is it mandatory? Are my employees certified or rewarded in any way for completing their training modules?

9. Does management currently have budgets or the skill to award our employees on the spot for exhibiting safe behaviors? If so, which employee positions qualify for these awards?

Answering these questions will identify the gaps in your safety incentive program. Closing these holes will help explain expectations of preferred behaviors to your employees and managers. After all, if people don't fully understand safety processes and what they're expected to do and how they'll be rewarded, your safety incentive program will fall flat. Conversely, if you're not motivating people to participate from both an intrinsic and extrinsic perspective, you're missing a great opportunity to improve the outcomes of your safety programs.

Integrate Your Safety Program Into a Broader Employee Experience Platform
A safety program should be integrated as a component in your employee experience platform. Besides a safety initiative, employees should have the opportunity to earn awards or recognition in a variety of ways. Multiple earning opportunities increase award point accumulation, which has a direct correlation to engagement. The more points employees can earn, the more likely they can redeem for an award of their own choice—which, in turn, furthers the likelihood of engagement, involvement, and retention.

Here are some ideas for multiple programs (including safety) in an employee experience platform:

  • Waste Reduction
  • Safety
  • Suggestion program
  • Length of service
  • Recognition (peers and managers)
  • Well-being
  • Career
  • Training
  • Certification

Combining Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators in a Safety Incentive Program

  • Award individuals who attain an accident-free first quarter and incrementally increase the reward for subsequent quarters. (Intrinsic: status, mastery; Extrinsic: competition, fear of failure)
  • Motivate individuals to have perfect attendance for a period of one year with no unplanned time off such as sick days or injury-related days. (Intrinsic: autonomy; Extrinsic: competition)
  • Reward drivers who have not had any preventable vehicular damage for a period of one year. (Intrinsic: mastery, status; Extrinsic: tangible rewards)
  • Recognize drivers who pass safety guidelines during annual ride-alongs that are reinforced by unexpected management checks. (Intrinsic: learning, mastery, status; Extrinsic: fear of failure)
  • Reward employees for submitting proactive ideas that are implemented to impact employee safety and reduce accidents. (Extrinsic: praise, tangible rewards)
  • Increase targeted communication campaigns, focused on relevant safety tips. (Intrinsic: learning)

With your vision established and motivators identified, you can collaborate with your team and determine the perfect plan for success—one that fits your people, your organization, and your goals—and most importantly, for the safety of your employees.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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