The "fun" philosophy of the Seattle fishmongers is disseminated worldwide. "Fish: A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results," by Stephen C. Lundin is the story of a fictional company that transformed itself by applying lessons learned from Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market. The story has evolved into "Fish Tales" - a book and audio series featuring dozens of real-life examples of companies that increased morale and productivity and decreased burnout and turnover by adopting the "Fish" philosophy.
In this article, I want to apply the four tenants of the "Fish" philosophy to workplace safety: 1) have more fun; 2) own the process; 3) choose your attitude; and 4) make someone's day.
Joanne Dean, safety director of The Gale Construction Company, told me how she attempted to break up the serious fa?e in the large reception area of a major printing company. She periodically visited this New Jersey business and noted how solemn everyone seemed. Most would not look up to give new visitors eye contact. Even Joanne's friendly "hello" was often ignored.
On one particular day, however, Joanne was not to be overlooked. She entered the lobby and skillfully performed three cartwheels across the reception area. She then took a bow to the applause of many onlookers. But, of course, there were some who never noticed. For these individuals, it takes more than a few athletic cartwheels to break the routine.
You don't have to be an athlete or gymnast to add some fun to your work group. I've started off a few university meetings with laughter by placing a rubber dog nose over my own nose. This small makeover makes any face comical and is sure to bring a welcomed laugh. My dog nose is conservative compared to other fun items available in the standard novelty shop. You could wear duck feet or an entire chicken suit to work - on casual Friday, of course.
I was recently reminded of the up-tight mindset of some safety pros when I was asked to remove a number of my PowerPoint cartoons from a keynote address at a company safety conference. The committee members themselves had no problem with the illustrations, but they presumed the CEO and senior staff would be offended. I complied with the request, of course, but I was tempted to present these cartoons anyway in order to show the safety committee that top management can loosen up and have fun too!
The most objectionable of the discarded slides is presented in Figure 1. If this illustration offends you, I apologize. I use it to show how the mindset of optimism or "looking for the positive" can affect a person's perception, what they see or don't see.
Once an employee challenged the safety incentive program I helped to create with the statement, "Giving safety trinkets for safety activities is Mickey Mouse. I wouldn't subject my granddaughter to such nonsense." I retorted with, "I love Mickey Mouse and I bet your granddaughter loves him too."
Further discussion among workers revealed that many of them presumed the purpose of the incentives was "to modify behavior." This was insulting. A line worker added, "We don't need trinkets to motivate us to be safe. And we naturally want to prevent the possibility of personal injury to our coworkers."
By introducing and encouraging the mindset of "incentives for fun" rather than "incentives for behavior modification," I reduced employee resistance and got the buy-in needed to move ahead with the safety incentive program. Then, when the employees got fully engaged in the playful routine-breaking process of earning and spending behavior-based safety credits, they adopted an ownership attitude regarding behavior-based safety incentives at their plant.
Safety language can be more positive. Safety performance can be readily evaluated by counting success stories instead of failures. And a safety incentive program can be implemented to boost morale rather than to motivate behavior change. You will choose to make these changes when you realize the value in interjecting more fun and playfulness into industrial safety.