Workplace Safety: The Power of Praise

Every workplace poses certain threats to employee safety; whether it is an ice cream shop, an office setting, or an industrial manufacturing facility, safety hazards are everywhere. Employers are aware of most safety hazards and usually do their best to combat them by enacting specific safety rules and practices, with many stemming from OHSA-based standards. However, what happens when an accident does occur? Many times, employees act as though they are in some sort of a game by acting as though they are “not it.” Nobody wants to take the blame or be the contributing factor to an accident because they are afraid of being reprimanded for it. It is often common practice for supervisors to use a fear of punishment for not following safety guidelines. For instance, if an employee engages in hazardous behavior such as not using the appropriate PPE when entering a specific area, the manager may say “You need to wear the appropriate PPE or you will be written up.” This same type of behavior – consequence situation happens in many components of life. For example, a mother may tell her child, “You better clean up your mess, or you will get a timeout.” It’s just all too easy to threaten someone with a consequence if certain criteria or directions are not followed. While this tactic may seem to work for the time being, it is not really stopping the problem or action from happening in the first place.

There is a disconnect occurring, especially when employees are only punished for doing the wrong thing and never praised for actually doing the RIGHT thing.

Positive reinforcement is defined as any action that follows a behavior and makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again. An easy way to understand this is to think of something pleasant being added to a situation. If the owner of a local pizza shop gives you a free salad for being a new customer, he has provided positive reinforcement for eating at his restaurant. This reward – a token of appreciation for your visit – makes you more likely to visit again.

Gretchen LeFever-Watson – EHS Today

This same idea can and should be brought to safety in the workplace as well. All too many times there are consequences for the people who choose not to follow the safety guidelines or practices, but there isn’t much praise for the people who always do. When was the last time you heard a supervisor praise an employee for continuously remembering to wear ear plugs in a loud part of the factory? It just doesn’t happen. Supervisors expect compliance and forget to give praise for it. There is a lot of power in praise. When a person is praised for doing the right thing, they feel good about their positive choices and make a point to continue doing the same admired or positive behavior in the future.

Genuine praise has tremendous value for employees: A national survey of over 2,000 people once documented that more than two-thirds of the workers said that praise and recognition from their bosses was more motivating than money.

Gretchen LeFever-Watson – EHS Today

If praise is lacking for following safety practices in your business, it’s time to make a change. Start out small; give praise to three or four people who are continually following the safety guidelines and practices and watch how they respond. They may be surprised to hear that they are being praised for doing what is expected, but it will give them continued motivation to do so in the future as well. Praise is POWERFUL!

Resource: Gretchen LeFever-Watson – EHS Today 30. July 2013

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