Enterprises are constantly finding new and better ways to motivate and reward workers, without breaking the bank or hindering worker productivity. But incentives providers are starting to disagree as to whether the times call for entirely new solutions, or if the age-old rules still apply.

It’s the car, not the gas

According to Peavey Performance Systems, Lenexa, Kan., makers of the Safety Jackpot incentives program, “Those new to incentive programs too easily focus on what kinds of incentives to offer. The more critical questions start with ‘how.’” Each individual enterprise must identify which goals their employees should be aiming for.

“A safety program is like building a really good car,” said Seth Marshall, who developed one of the industry’s first turnkey incentive programs, Safety Pays, during the late 1980s. “Safety incentives are just the gas.” Accordingly, many incentive program designers are working to develop customized solutions, increase the variety of their product offerings, and recast their older base concepts to meet a bevy of new customer demands. “What started as one basic style has evolved into 40 different designs,” said Marshall.

A more recent trend, however, has been for programs to reach beyond OSHA and worker compensation requirements to tap into worker behaviors that affect safety. “We’re moving away from milestones and lagging indicators, and rewarding involvement and engagement in the safety process,” said Jon Kaufman, vice president and creative director of Kaufman, Levine & Partners Inc. as well as head of KL&P Motivation.

Kaufman’s C-Change incentives program is a customizable Web-based solution that gives out points to workers for individual safety actions designated by the enterprise. Points can also be awarded on the floor at a supervisor’s discretion, or to groups for achieving milestones. A fourth component, “learn and earn,” which Kaufman noted is currently in the works, will allow employees to earn extra points by taking Web-based tutorials and quizzes on safety-related issues.

“I see more and more companies adding the behavior-based stuff,” said Marshall. “The industry, like any other business, goes through cycles. Right now there’s not quite the same emphasis on yardsticks because the workers’ compensation market has contracted. So we’re increasingly adding into incentive programs beyond the yardsticks, bringing in different types of behavior components like attendance and good housekeeping habits.”

Checking the mileage

Both developers noted that an employee suggestion component — “not just for safety, but for anything,” according to Marshall — had become an essential aspect of their incentive programs.

However, Marshall and Kaufman disagreed on the effectiveness of recordables. “The OSHA recordables don’t mean much,” said Kaufman. “If you’ve got a system built on milestones or incentives, if Joe Blow injures his hand, it goes unreported.”

Kaufman said most incentive programs are moving in this direction of positive enforcement, and focusing on implementing systems that don’t encourage workers to hide injuries.

Marshall agreed about the danger of milestones as incentives, but noted that a good incentive system can avoid such pitfalls. “You have to take human nature into account. The trick is to design the system so there’s always bait at the end of the hook.”

Regular or unleaded

So what might that bait be? According to Safety Jackpot, which rewards Keno-like game cards to employees, “Give an employee a $20 bill as a reward and where is it spent? At the grocery store or maybe at the gas station. Will the employee even remember? Develop a fun game-based program and build trophy value by offering a choice of merchandise items they want — not need — because it simply works better.”

Kaufman, whose program also redeems points through a catalog, provides a more specific reasoning behind this strategy. “We don’t do cash or gift certificates because they’re taxable,” he said. “We offer iPods, canoes, bikes, Jacuzzis, shirts, etc. — all with the theme logo on them — because they are not considered “disguised compensation.”

Of course, it’s little secret what the workers will ask for in the way of incentives: cash. And according to Marshall, “you bait the hook to suit the fish.”

What’s in store

Technologically speaking, Marshall’s system has implemented DVD instructional videos and e-mail newsletters, but has yet to find reason for integrating a Web-based structure to the Safety Pays program. “Interestingly, as much as we’ve offered, we’ve found the guys that are out there are very analog peoples. There isn’t a big demand for new technology.”

But Kaufman believes there is a growing market for a Web-based approach. “The Internet has allowed for a comprehensive element that allows us to bring it all into one system. I think the barrier for entry into developing something like this keeps others away,” he said.

“The next generation is going to see really comprehensive improvements of the safety culture, in which you’re growing an employee base of systems thinkers who realize every choice will have lasting effect on the company,” said Kaufman, adding, “I think there’s a trend or a desire to see a trend that does a better job than behavior-based safety, because it’s just a peer-view observation program, and it’s not enough.”

Marshall was similarly optimistic concerning this industry’s outlook. “The truth is, so long as ... there’s danger, there’s going to be a need for safety programs, and that means a need for safety incentives; the car still needs gas.”