Can the Internet Improve Safety?

The survey says yes! Companies are going online to improve the administration, communication, and participation of their employee incentive programs.

WORKER's compensation rates and litigation, OSHA fines, productivity losses, and other fallout from workplace illness and accidents keep employers searching for the most effective ways to involve employees in safety programs. A recent survey reveals one method of improving employee performance that is quickly gaining in popularity is the use of online incentive programs.

Northwestern University and the Naperville, Illinois-based Online Incentive Council (OIC) of the Incentive Marketing Association conducted the Survey on the Use of Online Incentive Technology via e-mail in May 2003. The survey's respondents--171 sales, marketing, human resource managers, and safety officials at corporations that use incentives--indicated motivation programs, including those promoting workplace safety, will increasingly be conducted online.

Among all respondents, 65 percent indicated they had used Internet-based software for some or all aspects of incentive programs, a number Michael Arkes says represents a rapid acceptance of online motivation. President and CEO of Hinda Incentives, a click-and-mortar performance improvement company based in Chicago, Arkes says, "Our company has developed and managed online incentive programs since 1997, when Internet usage was a relatively new phenomenon. To have 65 percent of the respondents to our survey today state that they use online incentives shows the impact this technology has had on our industry."

The survey also revealed that the incentive programs most often run online were employee recognition (52 percent), sales incentives (34 percent), and customer acquisition/loyalty (9 percent). Using incentive products to recognize employees for greater levels of workplace safety is a tried-and-true technique for lowering injury-related costs. Moving those recognition programs online, however, offers several advantages in terms of employee involvement, program administration, and program communications.

Benefits of Online Motivation
When respondents were asked about specific program functions for which they used the Internet, the highest-rated answers were running all aspects of the program (52 percent), communicating the program to participants (31 percent), and administering the program (8 percent).

Says Brian Galonek, president of incentive solutions provider All Star Incentive Marketing in Sturbridge, Mass., and president of the OIC, "The percentage of users that indicated they use Internet technology to communicate with participants will grow dramatically in the coming years. The ability to use the award sites and e-mail campaigns that accompany online programs to communicate with participants resonates more with our clients than any other single issue."

Getting program participants online, for instance, allows the company to communicate information quickly and easily about new safety initiatives or days-without-incident statistics; distribute safety quizzes that can result in instant rewards; or ask employees for workplace safety suggestions. Using data collected from program participants also can help companies see what?s working and what?s not, allowing them to tweak the program for improved illness or accident reductions.

Frequently, however, companies fail to take advantage of the information gleaned from their online incentive programs. When asked if information collected through incentive programs were used as input into other business decisions, 37 percent said it was not, while 28 percent said they use it for customer relationship programs, and 22 percent use it for developing sales and marketing strategies.

"There are tremendous opportunities in data mining and best practices," says Cheryl Nuttall, founder and vice president of business development at Altour Incentive Management of Phoenix, Ariz., a Web-enabled incentive and recognition management solutions provider. "Organizations that can take the collective data and look at patterns, behaviors, and best practices will prove invaluable to client companies."

Nuttall notes companies usually don?t look at actual patterns in the data generated by motivation programs for use in making those programs more successful. Incentive program providers can help clients look at patterns of regional locations accessing the site or identify areas where additional safety education is needed. They also can help clients analyze how the program?s communications are affecting its success.

Adding such touches as surveys, training, suggestion boxes, and automated e-mail to online programs can dramatically increase the response rate of participants. If companies only save time and money moving motivation online, they?re not achieving the full benefit of the Internet.

Realizing the Full Potential
So, what do companies want from their safety and employee incentive programs? When asked to rate the importance of several incentive program functions, respondents indicated the five most important were data collection and management, reporting capabilities, ease of administration, ease of use, and award calculations.

When asked how well the Internet performed those functions versus paper-based programs, respondents rated online programs highest for providing immediate access to information, reporting capabilities, ease of administration, ease of use, and data collection and management.

In other words, respondents indicated Internet technologies performed best for the same functions they identified as most important.

According to the survey, what?s keeping even more companies from using online incentives is uncertainty about how the Web and motivation go together. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said the primary reason for not moving incentive programs online is unfamiliarity with how the Internet can be used for such programs. Further, only 21 percent of respondents felt they were using the Internet to its full potential.

Educating clients has become a central issue for the OIC and the entire online incentive industry. "We feel that it is our responsibility to ensure that those developing the program know not only what our basic system will do for them, but after reviewing their real needs, what an enhanced system may do for them," says Tim Lang, senior vice president of sales and marketing at USMotivation of Atlanta, a people performance management company. He points to the natural progression from asking, "Will it work?" to asking "How well can we make it work?"

Without fully understanding how to best use the Internet to meet their goals, companies are nonetheless getting the returns they want from their online incentive investment, and most plan to keep motivating employees online in the future. Sixty-two percent of the respondents indicated they were very likely, and 26 percent somewhat likely, to use the Internet in this capacity again.

"The challenge with technology is that it continues to evolve," Lang adds. "Therefore, we must continue to develop new and useful innovations that enhance the online systems, make sure our clients are fully aware of those innovations, and educate them on the potential and power of the innovations."

This article originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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