Ball caps, jackets, logoed merchandise, pizza, points, gift cards, and discounts – the list of incentives for workplace safety goes on. Whatever the reward, the idea is that employers give workers something in exchange for desired behavior or action. However, some critics point out that employees might hide injuries in order to get the reward.
For example, Aubrey Daniels International senior vice president for safety, Janet Agnew sees no role for incentives as businesses usually use them. “The problem with any kind of incentive that has a monetary value (beyond maybe a pizza) is that it can motivate some people to do things, including lying and cheating, that they wouldn’t otherwise do to get the incentive,” says Agnew. She’s also concerned that workers can behave unsafely, and if they don’t get caught, still earn a reward. The thinking goes that as long as there’s no accident, the employee deserves the incentive.
What’s more, adds Agnew, while employees like getting “stuff,” they don’t believe incentives influence their daily safety behavior. She defines an incentive as a reward that’s tied to something that might happen in the future if one doesn’t engage in a particular behavior.
Agnew prefers the concept of reinforcement to incentives. Although, the most typical form of reinforcement is a positive comment, it also makes sense to reinforce an action by making it easier for employees to do. “Often in safety,” says Agnew, “we make it difficult to do the right thing, like requiring people to sit down and file complicated paperwork to report a hazard.” Implementing a hassle-free system, such as a hot line for oral reporting, reinforces the desired action by making it easier.
Companies can engineer reinforcement into the work process, or encourage it by the way they plan work. “If you’ve have money to spend on safety, I would analyze your organizational and management systems and ask what you can do to make it easier and more reinforcing to do the right things,” Agnew suggests.