Office Depot Makes Motivation Meaningful
A creative solution solved the problems of flagging morale and too many programs operating at the same time.
- By Chuck Davis
- Sep 12, 2008
Office Depot’s challenge was clear:
• Increase workers’ safety in its 32 warehouse
• Introduce a standard, consistent program
for all sites and eliminate the stand-alone safety
incentive programs at individual sites.
•Measure the impact of the safety incentive program.
•Motivate each employee to take personal responsibility
for working safely.
• Reduce the number of worker’s compensation
• Improve employee morale.
Workplace safety is paramount in warehouses,where
employees continually face a range of hazards, from
strains and sprains to more serious injuries caused by
forklifts,box cutters, and conveyor belts. Strict standards
for worker safety and accident rates are set by OSHA.
Although Office Depot’s warehouse facilities have always
been in compliance with OSHA standards, by
2004, the company’s managers decided more could be
done to lower their accident rate and reverse the company’s
steady increase in claims for worker’s compensation
and disability insurance.
Wes Bank, a regional manager of loss prevention and
safety with Office Depot, was one of those who recognized
the company needed a different approach to its
safety programs.“We needed people to take personal responsibility
for safety, and to do that,we needed to provide
better incentives,” Bank said.
Too Many Programs
Bank said one problem at Office Depot was not a lack
of safety programs, but rather, too many of them: a national
program that set a safety goal for each warehouse,
plus various incentive programs at each warehouse.
However, all of the programs focused on rewarding employees
for their facility’s safety performance, rather
than on rewarding them for their own individual safe
work practices. For example, through the national program,
employees were eligible for a bonus at the end of
the year if their warehouse met its accident-rate goal for
the year. But if the facility had a bad quarter with several
workplace incidents,employees quickly lost their motivation
to work safely.
Most warehouses also held monthly drawings for
gift cards and prizes, but frequently the only reward for
working safely was a chance to be included in the
monthly drawing.Many employees who worked injuryfree
for months never received any tangible award.
Although the company tried various safety approaches,
the accident rate still increased, so even more
incentives were attempted. However, the only result
was a hodgepodge of safety programs that were constantly
changing.And because the various approaches
were not measured or tracked, it was difficult to see
whether any program was effective at encouraging safe
Something had to change.
Finding the Solution
In his quest to find a creative solution to the safety issue,
Bank in 2004 contacted C.A. Short about designing a
safety incentive program that would meet Office
The new safety incentive program was finally implemented
company-wide in early 2007. It is based on a
reward system for individuals—not teams or entire facilities—
who consistently work safely.
Each warehouse employee earns safety points for
every month that he or she works without being injured.
Extra points are awarded when the facility has
an injury-free month and when the facility meets its
safety goal for the month. However, because the emphasis
is on individuals, half of the points that an employee is eligible to accrue each month are
awarded for individual safety achievements.
By emphasizing the importance of
individual behavior, the program removes
the temptation to hide or not report incidents
that might affect a team award. Employees
are encouraged to report accidents
and are never penalized for doing so.
As soon as safety points are earned they
can be redeemed for a variety of safety
awards: useful, practical, name-brand merchandise
that includes tools, household
items, sporting goods, luggage, jewelry,
watches, and toys.Other unique awards that
are not listed in the catalog are also available
for special occasions and celebrations.
The program is completely administered
by the vendor via a software program that
was designed specifically for Office Depot.
Front-line supervisors at Office Depot have
no extra paperwork or administrative duties,
and they can access program information
online at any time.
Points can be redeemed by phone, mail,
fax, or online. The program provides immediate
gratification by making smaller awards
available for points that could be earned in a
month or two, but it also accommodates
those who prefer to accumulate their points
for big-ticket items, such as home gym
equipment and motorized scooters. Safety
points never expire and can be redeemed at
any time during the individual’s employment
with Office Depot.
Family involvement in the award program
provides extra motivation for employees.
The merchandise catalog is mailed
to the home of each worker, which not
only creates excitement, but also helps motivate
and encourage employees to work
safely and earn tangible rewards their families
Workplace recognition is another important
element of the safety program; supervisors
are encouraged to acknowledge
employees on a regular basis for having
earned safety awards. “The program has
made it easy for front-line supervisors to incorporate
conversations about work safety
into their team meetings,” said Matthew
McClure, also a regional manager of loss
The results of the new safety incentive program
speak for themselves.Within the first
year, Office Depot’s accident rate decreased
19 percent, meaning less lost time and fewer
claims for worker’s compensation and disability
insurance.And the program is already
allowing Office Depot to cut its spending on
its safety initiatives.
Office Depot’s safety challenges were not
unique. Its safety award program is successful
because it is based on proven techniques developed after years of scientific research.
Companies across the United States are
faced with skyrocketing costs related to
workplace injuries: lost time, retraining, and
rising worker’s comp and disability payouts.
A 2004 white paper released by the American
Society of Safety Engineers estimated workplace
accidents cost U.S. companies more
than $1 billion a week1 in both direct and indirect
Given that statistic, it’s no wonder
companies from across the country are
turning to strategic incentive programs
that will reduce complacency and promote
safety awareness. Programs can be designed
for every industrial sector that
could face workplace injuries: construction,
manufacturing, warehouses, transportation,
and many others. Each safety
incentive program is customized to suit
the unique needs of the industry.
Each program incorporates 10 essential
elements that are the key to long-term, sustainable
1. Simple and well-defined rules. If you
want your employees to embrace your program,
they need to understand it. The most
effective programs are straightforward and
have just a few rules.
2. Accumulation design. By encouraging
your employees to accumulate reward
points, you motivate them to set goals.
3. Short-term recognition periods. A 12-
month program that is divided into 30-day
recognition periods is much more effective
than a yearlong program.
4. Individual recognition. Emphasizing
the safety achievements of individuals rather
than of the team or facility eliminates the
temptation to hide or not report accidents.
5. Human interaction and peer recognition.
Employees whose achievements are recognized
and celebrated at work are motivated
to repeat those achievements.
6. Useful and desirable awards. Employees
are motivated by safety programs that
offer rewards they want and can reasonably
expect to earn. A wide variety of desirable,
name-brand merchandise can significantly
boost the success of your program.
7. Family involvement. The support and
encouragement of an employee’s family can
help reinforce the company’s safety goals.
Rewards attractive to the whole family create
a special incentive for employees to
8. Immediate gratification. Behavior that
is reinforced and rewarded is more likely to
become a habit. Ensure your employees are
quickly rewarded for achieving a safety goal.
9. Positive reinforcement and continuous
communication. To ensure company-wide
visibility for your program, communicate
constantly about the program to reinforce its
goals and create top-of-mind awareness of
10. Management support. Management
must buy into and be involved with the program
from the beginning—from the design
stage through the promotion and implementation.
1. American Society of Safety Engineers: “The Return
on Investment for Safety, Health and Environmental
(SH&E) Management Programs.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.