Gift cards continue to grow in popularity in safety programs because they are cost-effective, easy to hand out and use, and fit any safety recognition budget.

Building Workplace Safety with Rewards and Recognition

Gift cards offer many advantages, and they continue to grow in popularity in safety programs.

It's all too easy to launch an exciting, new workplace safety program with colorful posters, theme buttons, and a pizza lunch, but without a simple, ongoing safety incentive program, your overall company safety results may fall short of your goals. Recognition and reward for a job well done fulfills a basic human need for acknowledgement and affirmation. When we are recognized for our contributions, we naturally engage at a higher level and contribute more. Successful safety managers incorporate the concept of recognition and reward into their safety programs to drive positive safety behavior and ultimately impact financial results.

While safety recognition programs can be highly effective at changing or reinforcing employee safety behavior, there are a number of critical safety program components that must be in place first.

Key Safety Program Components
1. Safe work environment: It seems obvious but employee working areas must be safe from all potential hazards (both naturally occurring and man-made).
2. Safe work equipment: Again, this seems obvious, but it can be overlooked.
3. Invest in your safety department: Equip your safety team with adequate resources from experienced, knowledgeable safety professionals.
4. Hire "safe" people: Consistent attention should be paid in the hiring process to seek and hire individuals who exhibit high levels of responsible behavior.
5. Effective training: Comprehensive and continuous employee safety training is critical for best results. Training is not a one-time seminar. It should be ever-present and ongoing.

Why Ongoing Safety Education?
Safety training and education should be ongoing because, like everything else in life, things change. Safety legislation and safety best practices evolve over time, as do the work environment, equipment, materials, and products.

Perhaps the biggest reason training must be ongoing is because of your employees. They're human. They may be tired or thinking about personal issues while on the job. Perhaps they’re anxious to complete an assignment, finish up a project, or even meet a production goal. Then there's always employee turnover.

The reasons are many, but mistakes and accidents can and do happen. That is why continuous training, as a reminder of how to work safely and why it is important, must be ingrained in your organization--24/7, 365 days a year.

The Carrot or the Stick?
Employees are human, and at times they must change their safety behavior if it's not at an acceptable level. Equally, if the behavior is at a highly acceptable level, this means your employees are really making the ongoing effort to be safe. We all know we like to be recognized for overall efforts/job performance.

It's really "the carrot and the stick" approach. Volumes have been written and studies done indicating the "stick" approach can work only so far. For overall most effective employee behavior change or overall maintenance of high levels of employee performance, the "carrot" approach is more effective.

What About the Budget?
A typical response to the need for a safety incentive program is, "I don't have a safety reward budget" or "It costs too much." The great news is that your overall employee safety recognition program doesn't have to cost a lot. Successful safety reward programs are viewed as investments, not expenses. If it's part of an overall effective employee safety program, it should generate a positive ROI by reducing the number of workplace accidents.

Key Components in an Effective Employee Safety Reward Program
1. Program communication: Shout it out! Program communication must be continuous, fun, visible, and colorful. Pick a program theme. Consider posters, banners, employee newsletter, employee website, corporate voicemail/email message (from the CEO), imprinted message on paycheck stub, etc. Hold a fun kickoff meeting with music, balloons, pizza lunch, coffee, and donuts. Hand out company-logo pens, drink bottles, t-shirts, etc. to announce and explain the program in detail.

2. Build a reward component into the safety program. Low-cost rewards such as $10 gift cards for everyday necessities (gas, groceries, fast food) are perfect for on-the-spot rewards or as redemption options in a point accumulation program. Overall safety program themes can be imprinted on many merchant gift cards to reinforce the safety program message.

3. Recognize and thank employees for participating in safety training. Incorporate rewards into your safety training classes to optimize participation. Perhaps at the end of the training class, a special "mystery prize" can be awarded--a complete surprise. The more fun your safety training class is, the more your employees are going to learn about safety.

4. Conduct quarterly safety quizzes. Again, have a little fun with this. Just as in school, conduct a pop quiz and reward those employees with high scores.

5. Use spot recognition rewards. All supervisors, plant managers, and managers in general should seek out opportunities to catch employees working safely, using the right safety equipment and clothing, and using safe work practices. Publicly recognize the employee on the spot, in front of their peers. Again, consider low-budget merchandise or gift cards for spot recognition rewards.

6. Set performance goals. Ensure the goals are:
S. Specific
M. Measurable
A. Action oriented
R. Realistic
T. Time bound

If a key measurement is "reported accidents," care must be taken to ensure that neither the reward program nor any type of inappropriate peer pressure is applied to encourage an employee not to follow company policies and report an accident.

7. Celebrate success. For most of us, we're not going to play in the Super Bowl or hit that three-point shot to win the NBA championship. Our work is a huge part of our lives--in many ways, it's our Super Bowl. Let's treat it as such and reinforce and recognize our employees when they achieve and maintain required levels of safety: "We're # 1--We're World Champions in Safety."

8. What type of rewards should I use? There are many different types of rewards out there, from t-shirts to trophies to merchandise premiums to gift cards. Company-logo items such as pens, t-shirts, and coffee mugs are nice, but they are not really considered highly motivational by employees because they are considered a company marketing tool. Merchandise is expensive (middleman markup), and it is very difficult to determine what a diverse group of employees really would like to earn or receive.

9. Gift cards are hot. Gift cards continue to grow in popularity in safety programs because:

  • They allow employees to choose their own reward (e.g., fill up the car at Shell, take the family to Pizza Hut, or buy a gift for someone else at Target).
  • They are cost effective for the employer, generally can be purchased at or close to face value (no middleman markups).
  • They are easy to hand out/present, very light and portable.
  • They are easy to use--at the retailer, online, or through a toll-free number.
  • Many denominations, as low as $5 and up, are available, so they can fit any safety recognition budget.

We hope you find this information useful in designing an effective employee safety recognition program. Good luck!

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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