3 Ways To Motivate Employee Buy-in To Safety

Without employee motivation, you have little chance of success in building a culture of safety.

Motivation02.jpgIf employees aren’t motivated, it doesn’t matter how good your intentions or how good the safety program. Without motivation to want to do their best, employees will give just enough performance to not get fired. Without motivation, you have little chance of success in building a culture of safety.

Historically in safety, there has been a mistaken belief that in order to get people to buy-in to safety, you have to “go negative.” But any safety person who thinks that this works is simply not well-versed in human motivation. Negative reinforcement may achieve momentary compliance. But it will not achieve long-term buy-in to the safety program. That means, you will always be chasing your people to comply at a minimum level with the most basic of safety performance.

What is negative reinforcement? It is using fear and guilt tactics designed to make people afraid to make a mistake. By all intents and purposes, that looks like it might work, but it doesn’t for long. Don’t do this and don’t do that warnings by themselves don’t present a workable plan nor a series of actionable steps. They simply make you afraid and tell you what not to do. But you don’t go to the grocery store with a list of things not to buy do you?

Focus on the negative and you create a negative outlook toward safety. You can’t build a positive workplace by constantly using messages of fear and intimidation.

To motivate employees positively to buy-in to safety, start with these three strategies:

1Choose positive benefits over negative threats. Those who view safety as a threat will have the hardest time switching over to finding positive ways to reinforce safety. But it's not impossible. First, go through your safety information materials and PowerPoint slides. Look around your workplace for negative-focused posters and/or photos. Ask yourself if there is a way make the same point positively? Find a way that inspires good safety practices instead of making employees fear for their lives. What are the benefits of wearing PPE? What are the benefits of a successful day in safety? Why is this safety meeting important and what do you want to have happen as a result? Ask yourself benefits questions. Look for the positive aspects of making good safety decisions. Have a conversation at a crew safety meeting to discuss how each employee benefits from doing safety right. Be proud of what you can do instead of being afraid of what you can’t.

2Connect pride to safety. Building on positives, now you can connect pride and contribution and recognition to safety. You can be assured that your best day at work, the day in which you were most proud, was not a day that involved shortcutting safety. People who do good work should be made to feel proud of their work. People who are recognized for their good work will take extraordinary steps to protect that pride. When employees know that others are looking to them for a cue in how to do work the right way, they will do it the right way. Being proud of your work is more than just being proud of your safety stats for the past year. Being proud of your work means that you feel valued for the contribution you bring to the job and the level of expertise that you display. Proud people do good, safe work.

3Turn numbers into names. An employee had landed in the hospital as the result of being electrocuted on the job. The CEO made it a point to visit that employee in the hospital. He insisted that someone from the company communicate regularly with both the employee and the family. This employee was more than just a Lost Time Injury stat. He was a husband and father. The CEO talked about him and called him by name at the safety meeting. He gave an update on the employee’s recuperation. And he shared a story of one of the employee’s personal triumphs on the road to recovery. The employee had a name. He mattered. As much as we do need to track numbers and incidents, we can’t forget that it’s people that get hurt. They have names and families. They are friends as well as workmates. If you want people to buy-in to safety, then safety has got to be personal. Give safety a name.

New Call-to-action To build motivation in safety, you have to connect with each individual member of the team. Each person plays a role. Each person is important. Look for a positive way to promote safety. Make people proud of where they work and who they work with. Remember that everyone has a name.

Kevin Burns gives engaging, entertaining and inspiring speeches to front-line employees at safety meetings. He also works with supervisors and safety managers on-site or in keynote presentations at conferences. Kevin helps organizations integrate caring for and valuing employees through their safety programs. Kevin Burns is a management consultant, safety speaker and author of 9 books.He is based in Calgary, Canada.

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Topics: safety leadership, kevin burns, safety buy-in