The ergonomic rules (part 2) — Motivation



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Theory Most Used and Most Flawed:

One theory of how to motivate people (with or without being “nice” in person) is to give an incentive – pay people to do what you want.  When incentive programs are linked with safety programs an interesting quandary develops – determining what should be rewarded.  Much of the research about safety programs lacks clear definition of what is meant by “safety performance.”  The term could refer to decreasing injury rates, participating in mandated or voluntary programs, or increasing safety behaviors (Christian, Bradley, Wallace, & Burke, 2009). 

Rewarding decreased injury rates means that employees would be penalized for reporting injuries.  Many programs find out the hard way that this practice results in masking real problems and creating combative work environments.  People start hiding injuries or coercing co-workers to under-report injuries so that they can be rewarded (read “paid”) for having no injuries that quarter (Pater, 2009; Fell-Carlson, 2004).  Instead, setting clear expectations, clear goals, and rewards tied to specific behavioral improvements, such as wearing personal protective equipment or reporting unsafe situations quickly, work better to promote real change (Fell-Carlson, 2004). 

Group think — use it or lose everything:

Another reward without using cash takes advantage of the power of “group think” and positive praise.  A positive group-level safety climate increases both the performance of safety behaviors and the learning of safety knowledge (Christian, Bradley, Wallace, & Burke, 2009).  To repeat Carnegie’s (1936) mantra: the best way to get people to do what you want is to make them feel important and feel like they want to help.  These actions of positive praise and celebration “provide opportunities for social recognition and feedback and demonstrate safety is a corporate value. Feedback opportunities, rewards, and social recognition all provide content for corporate legends, those stories embellished over time . . . provide examples of the organizational safety culture in action” (Fell-Carlson, 2004, p. 521).

So — What’s In It For Me?

So how to answer “what’s in it for me”?  Start a conversation with the managers and employees.  What motivates each group?  What programs have been instituted in the past that worked well?  What would the employees or managers like to change?  Don’t assume that more money is the goal– one or both groups may merely want to be acknowledged or celebrated for doing something well. 

The consultant has to use this information to write different program goals for the managers, the employees, the CEO, or the safety staff.  Each goal will be based on how that one group views the problem and what they see as the final reward.  Additionally, each goal has to be concrete enough for each group to know how they are going to be measured and what responsibilities they have.  For example, the CEO may be interested in improving the bottom line.  The goal for her would be: increase positive interactions with staff by 50% in order to increase productivity profits by 10%.  The employees may be interested in competition and recognition so the goal would be: the shift with the most days/month with three safety hazards identified will win a place on the recognition board.  Then the manager can post the night shift and day shift numbers and have a healthy competition.  The consultant can then focus on imparting the knowledge the employees and managers need to meet the goals.

Teaching so people can learn = stop wasting your breath:

No matter how motivated people are, they have to have the tools to change.  As consultants, we work on designing environments that are conducive to safety. For example, we ensure that the tools fit the population and the workstations are at the correct heights. The art of designing and choosing the correct chair has been studied for years.  People often complain to me that they already have purchased a large amount of equipment and still have pain.  Having the correct tools and knowing how to use them are completely different.  

We’ll get into tools next time…

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2 responses to “The ergonomic rules (part 2) — Motivation”
  1. new STAR member Avatar
    new STAR member

    Should implementing ergonomicly helpful devices be an associates’ choice or should it be corporately mandated? Input on the subject appreciated.

  2. Naomi Abrams Avatar
    Naomi Abrams

    Corporately mandated, in my opinion. If the approval of becoming ergonomically savey is supported from the top people at the bottom will take time to take care of themselves.

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