In today’s slowly recovering economy, employers are diligently searching for ways to reduce spending. Companies are reducing the number of employees, slashing benefits and reducing or eliminating employee incentives and rewards. Employees are working longer hours, have increased responsibilities, and in some cases are working at a reduced rate of pay. With these necessary budget cutbacks, employers now need to find a way to encourage their workers to work the necessary hours (sometimes longer hours) and  make better use of work time - all while maintaining a safe and healthy workplace environment.

Reward to encourage

Employers can achieve this by using rewards and recognition.

Incentives are a way of life. Parents use incentives to motivate their children. Companies use incentives to reward CEOs. Retailers use incentives to boost sales and generate customer retention and loyalty. Employers use incentives to promote wellness and safety in the workplace.

Safety in the workplace is about preventing illness and injury to employees. Therefore, it’s about protecting the company’s most valuable asset: its workers. By protecting employees’ well-being, companies reduce the amount of money paid out in health insurance benefits, workers’ compensation benefits and the cost of wages for temporary help. Also factor in saving the cost of lost work hours, time spent in orienting temporary help, not to mention the programs and services that may suffer due to fewer qualified providers, and the stress on those individuals who are picking up the absent workers’ workload.

Can't afford not to

With shrinking budgets, how are employers going to reward their workers and promote safety programs?

A safety program’s goal is to modify a person’s behavior. For an incentive or reward to have the desired effect, it must offer high value to the recipient. An employee will not try to earn something that has no value to him. Select a reward that motivates and encourages the desired behavior.

However, the reward does not have to be expensive to be effective. In fact, a small inexpensive reward given on a frequent, regular basis reinforces and promotes the desired behavior more effectively. Select an award that everyone on the team can earn; if the goals are set too high, few will strive to earn them. The reward should provide instant gratification and avoid disconnect between the action and reward. A tangible gift is often perceived to have a higher value than its actual cost. A $5-$10 gift card redeemable at the local coffee shop, for a sandwich at a favorite lunch spot or a movie ticket gives employees immediate rewards for proactive safety behaviors. A gift card is a solution which is relatively inexpensive, has a perceived higher value and can be given instantly to reward workplace safety practices. A gift card also serves as a long-term reminder of the accomplishment.

Build your safety reward budget based on potential cost savings, such as fewer workers’ compensation claims, less equipment damage, less time training new employees, reduced health insurance costs and lower employee absenteeism.

Also consider these important facts:

  • In 2009, workplace injuries cost employers $225.8B, an average of $1,685 per employee.1
  • Workplace injury costs ($164.7B) exceeded the combined profits of the “Fortune 11” in 2008.2
  • A review of 73 published studies of worksite health and safety promotion programs average $3.50- to-$1 savings-to-cost ratio in reduced absenteeism and healthcare costs.3

A review of 42 published studies of worksite health and safety promotion programs shows: An average 28% reduction in sick leave absenteeism, an average 26% reduction in health costs, and an average 30% reduction in workers’ compensation and disability management claims costs.4

Putting an incentive gift card program into place is relatively easy. Gift cards are readily available in local grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores. They can be purchased online directly from merchants, in small quantities and in bulk. When making large purchases, many major retailers and gift card suppliers offer companies a discount off the face value of the cards, thus offering companies an added savings. Gift cards are easily inventoried and fit securely in a small safe or desk drawer.

Creating, managing and paying for a safety program does not have to be difficult, expensive or time consuming to be effective. Your program can be complex with a sophisticated points-based system, or as simple as predetermined safety goals and reward criteria supported by a supply of assorted inexpensive gift cards to hand out when goals have been met. Whether you go with a sophisticated all-encompassing program or a simple safety program, the benefits to your company will outweigh the costs. And best of all, a safety program can essentially pay for itself.  


1. Results from the American productivity audit.  

2. Results from the National Safety Council’s “Injury Facts” report.

3. Aldana SG. Financial impact of health promotion programs: a comprehensive review of the literature. Am J Health Promotion. 2001;15(5):296-320

4. Results from the National Safety Council’s “Injury Facts” report.