Gamify Your Safety Incentive Program

Gamify Your Safety Incentive Program

New advancements in gamification, automation and behavior rewarding deliver stronger accident reduction.

As safety experts, the task of dramatically lowering workplace accidents and fatalities comes down to the ability to positively change employee workplace behavior.

Changing unsafe behavior, of course, starts with education and, ultimately, compliance. The unfortunate fact is that the majority of workers yawn during classroom teaching and often feel that following all the safety rules and regulations is a waste of their time. Why? They believe that they are above it and bad things only happen to “other people.” Similar to how some of us were as teens, right?

Safety and HR experts are frustrated that employees cut corners and don’t always pay attention in safety meetings. We have learned that addressing this with punishment can result in non-reporting, poor morale, and costly turnover.

A Tricky Dilemma

To many, it makes sense to perhaps “bribe” employees by dangling an incentive “carrot.” Merchandise and even taxable gift cards and cash are used for this purpose. This approach also has proven to have some big pitfalls.

The challenge here is that the programs that focus solely on the carrot “award” do grab attention and are often successful for several months, but unless the value of the incentive carrot is quite large, these initiatives often weaken with time and eventually lose their effectiveness.

If the programs are not structured correctly, they too can even cause non-reporting issues. In addition, if most of the recognition program is based solely on the reward itself, it can become an expected form of compensation that the employee becomes entitled to versus a program that builds a lasting safety culture.

In order to avoid this dilemma and create an environment of safe behavior, we must learn from and implement the simple psychology that was instilled in us and that motivated us in our youth.

The Gamification Element

Games captivated, motivated, and bonded most of us when we were young. If something became stale, we gamified it. Creative parents and teachers often used this technique on us … because it worked.

More than ever, companies have turned to adding elements of gamification to their safety incentive programs, which has proven to engage and bond employees much more effectively than traditional programs. The return on investment of these gamified programs is far superior as well.

Results in the Workplace

One of the nation’s largest Utility providers has experienced this first-hand. Prior, the company, with several thousand employees, had been running a traditional program focused primarily on the award itself. Their safety department lead commented, “We had been running outdated incentive programs that were focused on lagging indicators.”

While continuing rewarding merchandise for safety accomplishments, they shifted the focus of their program to one that was strongly gamified. They selected a program that included elements of chance as well as a component that encouraged peer-to-peer interaction between team members.

The new program utilized online, mobile “Jackpot” scratch-off game cards that were rewarded on a frequent, weekly basis for specific “leading” safety behaviors (versus lagging indicators). Game card rewarding was attached to proactive safety behavior, attending safety meetings, scoring highly on safety quizzes, and reporting near-misses and hazards. Team safety accomplishment was rewarded as well.

Similar to a traditional program, the game cards revealed points which were redeemable for merchandise. The points on the cards varied, yet all were winners. However, the cards added a more exciting element of chance: upon scratching the bottom of the electronic card, a letter was revealed. Employees then bartered and traded cards online with each other in order for them to each spell out the word JACKPOT.

Once spelled, the employee was then entered into a series of company and even national drawings. The national drawings (from the incentive supplier) provided chances to win beach vacation packages and be entered into an annual “Power Bag” Drawing for up to $ 1 million dollars cash. A participant remarked, “Some are more motivated by the smaller, frequent awards, and for others the big Grand-Prize Drawings do the trick! It makes the value of that weekly game card so much more because … you never know!”

Avoiding the pitfall of a program losing steam with time, the catalog was arranged by ascending plateau point value levels. In addition, as the program progressed, the odds of being entered into the grand-prize drawings rose each week as they collected letters.

The utility was originally concerned that gamifying a recognition program would add administration to their already hectic safety responsibilities. They found that by using an already proven, turnkey, online program, it helped to keep the program rewarding and other components mostly admin-free.

The results of this gamified approach were staggering. Safety engagement at the utility reached an all-time high. Near Miss reporting and Safety Observation numbers rose to unprecedented levels, much higher than with their past traditional “carrot and stick” approaches.

In addition, the program lead commented, “Our previous program was outdated and stale, but since this program is focused on leading indicators, employees are encouraged and feel comfortable reporting safety concerns without fear of reprimand!” Their goal of improving overall safety culture was exceeded, return on investment proved strong, and they continue this gamified program today with excellent safety results and numbers.

Others in a variety of industries have reaped the rewards by gamifying their safety incentive program.

The nation’s third-largest beverage company used a similar approach, rewarding weekly game tickets to employees across their multiple plants. Their cards were actual physical game cards (versus electronic or mobile) and were rewarded on the spot weekly for safety observations and other pro-safety behaviors.

The company used both the element of rewarding the smaller individual merchandise rewards along with the Grand-Prize Drawing component. Similar to the utility company, the employees played the game amongst themselves, trading cards to achieve their improved drawing odds. Within one year, their accidents had plummeted 56 percent with this new gamification element. A company spokesperson commented, “It has brought about more safety awareness, and has shown that our employees can work together as a team to increase their odds of winning!”

A Texas municipality also tried its hand at adding gamification to see if it made a difference. They experienced a 25X return on their investment. Accidents were reduced by a whopping 86 percent. They said simply … “The game made all the difference!”

A major auto parts distributor saw a reduction of claims by 61 percent and was pleasantly surprised at how workplace attendance had skyrocketed. The distributor witnessed employees paying more attention to their safety training and education. The head of Safety stated, “In the past, our safety incentive program consisted solely of gift cards and lunches for employees. While those are appreciated, the new program adds much more excitement.”

The Key to Gamifying

Clearly, evidence suggests that the same psychology of gamification that grabbed our attention and improved our performance as kids still works on us as adults. There are a few key components of gamification we have learned are important to include:

  • Find a turnkey, proven program offered by an incentive company versus trying to create your own in-house program. It will make your life easier, allow you to offer big national drawings, and increase your odds of dramatically lowering accidents.
  • Make sure you use some sort of weekly point-rewarding mechanism, making it easier to reward for leading indicators versus lagging ones. Game cards work well for this.
  • Your program structure needs to assure that everyone who is safe wins. Remember the 1970’s Safety Bingo programs? Gamified, yes, but while good for short-term excitement and perhaps a little easier on the budget, these programs lost enthusiasm with time when employees eventually figured out that not everyone who is safe is an award winner. Making everyone a winner will deliver stronger results.
  • Use a program that offers both guaranteed rewards for those that are safe, and chances to win something big. Surveys show some people are more motivated by big drawings, others by the smaller “sure-thing” reward.
  • Make sure your gamified program causes interaction between employees with their odds of winning big increasing over time (think of the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket). This will promote and build safety awareness company-wide and also cause the excitement and engagement level of these programs to actually increase over time, versus petering out.

Lastly, make it fun to be safe. Safety is a serious subject, but as we all learned growing up, we pay more attention when we are working (or playing) together and having fun. If we can use this proven psychology and save injuries and lives at the same time, we all win!

This article originally appeared in the August 1, 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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