What an employee, supervisor or manager does — for safety or anything else — is determined by his or her perception of “what’s in it for me?”

Five factors determine how much effort employees put into safety (or any part of their jobs): 1) their opinion of the value of the rewards; 2) the connection they see between their effort and those rewards; 3) effort expended; 4) abilities and traits; and, 5) role perception. People will not turn in the kind of performance we want unless all five are taken into account.

1) Value of the reward

If work-related outcomes are positive, they can be thought of as rewards. Various rewards that a person might hope to obtain are the friendship of fellow workers, a promotion, a merit salary increase, or an intrinsic feeling of accomplishment.

A given potential reward means different things to different individuals. The friendship of peers might be highly desired by one worker and be unimportant to another. A promotion might have very little positive value for one due to lack of desire to take on increased responsibilities, but for a middle manager in a large corporation, a promotion might be a reward of extremely high value.

In safety, a manager or line employee looks at the work situation and asks, “What will be my reward if I expend effort and achieve a particular goal?”

If the value of the reward for achieving the goal is significant, the individual will decide to expend the effort. For management types, the chances are they will decide the effort is worth it, if rewards are in terms of advancement and additional responsibility. But in safety, just as in other areas, management’s chosen rewards are often too small and too unimportant to entice the line manager.

2) Effort-reward probability

Effort-reward probability refers to an individual’s expectations concerning the likelihood that rewards depend on effort.

In safety, a manager (or just about any employee) asks the following questions when assessing how probable it is that the rewards really depend on effort:

  • Will my efforts here actually obtain the results wanted or are there factors involved beyond my control? (The latter seems a distinct possibility.)
  • Will I actually get that reward if I achieve the goal?
  • Will management reward me better for achieving other goals?
  • Will it reward the other manager (by promotion) because of seniority, regardless of my performance?
  • Is safety really that important to management or are some other areas more crucial to it right now?
  • Can management really effectively measure my performance in safety or can I let it slide a little without management’s knowing?
  • Can I show results better in safety or in some other area?

    3) Effort

    Effort is a key variable in this model, and it should be clearly understood as being different from performance. Effort refers to whether the person tries; performance refers to whether he or she succeeds.

    4) Abilities & traits

    In safety, this means ensuring, through selection and training, that an employee, supervisor or manager has sufficient safety knowledge and abilities to control the conditions (equipment, etc.) and/or the people they are responsible for.

    In most industries lack of knowledge is not a problem. If a person does not have adequate safety knowledge, the problem is easily handled through training.

    5) Role perception

    This refers to the direction of effort — the kinds of activities people believe necessary to perform the job successfully. If a person’s role perception (of safety or anything else) corresponds to that of management, then effort will be applied where it will count the most for successful performance, as defined by the organization. If the individual’s perceptions are wrong (do not correspond to those of management), then a great deal of effort may be expended without successful performance.

    In safety, role perception translates to: “Does the employee/supervisor know management’s views on accident control?” and “Does the employee/supervisor know what the duties are?”

    Bottom line

    Remember, safety performance is the end result of effort. It is that which we measure. And in terms of rewards, in safety there is always an intrinsic (staying injury-free) reward, but perhaps not as often an extrinsic reward (decided by the organization’s values). For predicting future performance, the most important things to know about rewards are their perceived size and perceived degree of connection to past performance.