The government would like us to think that the economy is on the rise. But if you talk to most people in business, they’ll tell you differently. Companies are very careful in their spending and many have had to reduce staff in order to survive. Even if businesses do not cut people, they are sharpening their pencils and reducing expenditures on anything considered non-essential. What most people consider “incentives” fall into this category.

An incentive is defined as something that encourages somebody to action or something that encourages or motivates somebody to do something. Incentives can be tangible or intangible. Tangibles include material rewards, money and gifts, while intangibles are such things as a “thank you”, praise, respect and approval. In these challenging economic times, it is especially important to identify types of incentives that can be used effectively and economically, and to develop an understanding of how incentives can be infused into a safety process.

Show your appreciation

It is easy to understand that morale and positive atmospheres in the workplace are a bit difficult to foster during times of economic stress. One thing management can do is find ways to show employees they APPRECIATE them and their contributions.

Try these tactics on for size:

Anonymous Survey. Conduct a large sample survey of the entire workplace population, including management and supervision. Determine the wants and needs of the employees. Ask for input and ideas. Ask what they would like to see in their safety process and the culture of the facility. This will give you a good idea of where the culture of the facility is at the present time.

Promote Honesty. This starts with being honest yourself. Be open and honest regarding where the company is at all times. Don’t try to snow the people. They are not stupid people and understand the economics of the times.

Participation. Allow employees to participate in setting goals and determining the direction the process should take.

Recognition. Recognizing employees is one of your least expensive and most effective ways of affecting performance. Studies show that employees are more likely to give outstanding performance when they are recognized, but will offer only average to low when they are not recognized. Positive recognition that is specific and timely is the most effective way. Always give praise before corrective communication. A written thank-you note is always well received.

Empower. Encourage people to be involved making decisions in their areas; to point out what needs and changes their work areas may need.

Checklists. Allowing employees to pinpoint safe practices is smart management because it fosters employee involvement and a feeling of ownership. This in itself is a safety incentive. Checklists specific to work areas outlining all the safe practices in area; doing observations on a regular basis and recognizing people for following safe practices is rewarding also.

Ingenuity. Use your imagination in finding rewards for employees. There is always some money to do things for your employees. Open up the soda machines for a day, free for all. Stock up on office supplies at the beginning of the school year and let employees “raid the closet” for supplies for their children. Look into “Groupons.” There are a lot of corporate discounts for many rewards that could be offered to employees. Have a cookout and invite the families. Supply the meat and ask for a dish to share.

Almost Accidents (Near Misses). Encourage and recognize people for submitting near misses and coming up with solutions to avoid the situations. Rewarding safety results such as low recordables, lost-time accidents, etc., while nice, is based on bad things not happening. Looking at almost accidents and arriving ways to prevent an accident is “here and now” and preventative in action.

Talk & Listen. Get to know your employees. Walk around the facility and talk to people. But be sure to listen to what they have to say. Follow through if you promise to look into something.

Empathize. Don’t show an attitude of “You’re lucky to have a job.” Employees know that. Work takes up a large part of a person’s day. Let them know you understand it is hard in these times and that you appreciate their hard work.

A continuous process

Remember that incentives cannot be considered a panacea for a broken safety process. All parts of the safety process must be solid before adding tangible incentives to ensure that you will be able to measure the success of the incentives. While tangible incentives are fun and appreciated, they need to be controlled and applied carefully to measurable goals.

Intangible incentives can be used any time and employee recognition and sincere appreciation should be shared on a continuous basis. People will exert higher discretionary effort on the job when personally recognized. Recognition is invaluable and takes little time and effort but will go a long way in generating success.