Providing Employees an Incentive for Safety: Given the Alarming Direction of Job Satisfaction, a Pat on the Back May Be More Valuable Than Ever

Article excerpt

Do incentives have a place in safety? That question has been debated in our pages and in many other forums for so long that it has become the safety equivalent of a blue state/red state issue. You're either for or against them, and there is little ground for discussion or compromise.

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To me, safety incentives are really another tool in the safety holster. They are not intrinsically good or bad. They are, however, easy to implement and, as a result, frequently abused. If a company has a "safety program" that consists solely of rewarding employees with cash or prizes if they go a month without a lost-time injury, then they are misusing this tool as surely as if they were hammering nails with a wrench.

Safety recognition expert Bill Sims Jr. notes in our article, "Seven Suggestions for a Successful Safety Incentives Program," that these programs "complement a well-rounded safety program. If you don't have return-to-work light-duty programs, accident investigations, safety committees, you have no business running a safety recognition program."

At their best, though, safety incentive programs reinforce the importance of safety, reward employees for safe work practices and provide a welcome dose of recognition for employees who too often go unnoticed unless they do something wrong.

JOB DISSATISFACTION

Safety incentives also may help to play a role in a broader issue facing the workplace. Last month, the Conference Board reported that half of all Americans are satisfied with their jobs, down from nearly 60 percent in 1995. And even among the half who say they are satisfied with work, only 14 percent say they are "very satisfied."

Lynn Franco, director of the organization's Consumer Research Center, said, "Rapid technological changes, rising productivity demands and changing employee expectations have all contributed to the decline in job satisfaction."

In addition, noted Shubhra Ramchandani, a management expert at TNS, the firm that conducted the survey for the Conference Board, "Less than one-third of all supervisors and managers are perceived to be strong leaders. The Enron/Worldcom era of corporate scandals and the outsourcing of jobs have increased the level of employee discontent. Shrugging off employee disengagement would be a disastrous, short-sighted view creating lasting global repercussions for American business. …