Office Depot Makes Motivation Meaningful

A creative solution solved the problems of flagging morale and too many programs operating at the same time.

Office Depot’s challenge was clear:

• Increase workers’ safety in its 32 warehouse distribution outlets.

• 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 claims.

• 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 work practices.

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 Depot’s needs.

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 can enjoy.

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 and prevention.

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.

Saving Money
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 costs.

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 results:

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 work safely.

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 safety issues.

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.

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