Health and safety regulatory requirements affect every workplace to varying degrees, but many employees are not making the connection between policies and good practice in their daily workflow. John Sylvester talks to Practice Management magazine about the benefits of peer recognition in promoting a safe workplace.
A recent study found that 79% of employees do not know where to log a health and safety issue, while 82% of people have never reported a safety concern at work.
It is possible to put in place incentives to foster positive behaviours – yet many safety professionals have real concerns that incentivising good practice could have the unintended consequence of driving bad behaviour and encouraging less scrupulous employees to create unsafe practice, hazards and near-miss incidents for the purpose of receiving rewards for reporting them.
Focusing on regular, even real-time, peer to peer recognition to drive safe behaviours can both address this issue and result in a substantial reduction in the budget needed for reward schemes. The goal is to encourage a proactive culture, where potential hazards are reported before they become major issues.
Many traditional reward schemes fail to recognise good practice in a timely manner, focusing instead on quarterly and even annual performance rewards. Embedding health and safety as a corporate value and then allowing colleagues to recognise one another for practice that demonstrates these values is key.
This is a far more successful approach than relying on occasional top-down rewards that are expensive – and often ineffective as they are perceived as out of reach.
Here are a few practical points to consider.
1. Peer recognition proves effective.
Peer recognition contributes more to organisational culture and employee engagement than top-down recognition.
A study polled 1,500 workers across Europe and 42% felt their peers were the biggest influence on their engagement levels. Only 3% of employees thought HR has the most impact on employee engagement levels. Just over one-fifth (21%) cited line managers.
2. How to drive health and safety at work through peer recognition.
There are a number of practical steps organisations can take to promote drive health and safety at work through peer recognition.
3. Implement systems that explicitly support peer recognition.
Online systems can support colleagues in sending out personalised e-cards containing quick thank you messages for good practice.
4. Make effective use of data from peer recognition platforms.
Practitioners can define segmented safety objectives and measure how much recognition activity is taking place against each value, enabling them to tweak the system to recognise desired behaviours or tailor communications to address specific concerns. Perhaps everyone is spotting trip hazards but failing to notice issues such as disability discrimination, risks to lone workers or noise issues, for example.
5. Measure the impact of peer recognition systems on organisational health and safety.
If the system is designed to record peer recognition messages against the health and safety value or practice that the organisation wants to reward, it will be easy to measure success. Key performance indicators (KPIs) on safety recognition systems might be linked to KPIs such as lost work days, first aid treatment rates, satisfaction scores related to ergonomics or workplace inspection audits. Longer-term impacts from safety issues may be measured from statistics on customer complaint levels and customer satisfaction indexes.
6. Encourage healthy competition between employees.
In many areas of recognition and reward it can be beneficial to introduce features such as quizzes and games to make health and safety (which, in some cases, can be dull) easier to engage with, digest and remember. Most people are fairly competitive, so any programme incorporating these elements will usually have a high uptake.
7. Adapt your peer recognition approach to suit different employees.
Field staff are often most at risk from safety issues, so it is important to include them in an organisational recognition system even if that means incorporating paper and ‘traditional’ mail-based recognition alongside online portals and SMS, email and social media messages.
Millennials who are new to the workplace and encountering health and safety requirements for the first time will respond well to regular affirmation and public peer recognition either in person or through the likes of an online hall of fame. Older employees who may fail to engage as effectively with a drive to build a safety culture will benefit from different communication methods and novel forms of recognition, such as peer-to-peer, that will re-engage them.
8. Learn from other organisations that have implemented peer recognition.
Technology company Siemens created a value linked to safety as part of its business strategy, and its recognition programme allows employees to personally recognise colleagues who demonstrate values through their interaction with colleagues and customers. The ‘Zero Harm’ value allows colleagues to recognise one another for safe working practices. Both individuals and teams can be recognised via e-card, instant reward or a podium award. This culminates in an annual awards celebration. Since the launch of the programme, recognition sent has increased by 168%.
9. Peer recognition promotes proactive health and safety mindset.
The operations of many organisations present significant hazards to employees and customers, communities and the environment. Peer recognition can go a long way to supporting employees in avoiding harm and maintaining brand reputation. Organisations might find that peer-to-peer recognition programmes drive an increase in the use of systems such as near-miss reports, resulting in a corresponding uplift in the number of incidents logged. This shift to a proactive approach will result in reinforcing a zero accident mindset, with safety issue reduction and improved staff wellbeing in the longer term. Changing behaviours and engaging people to ensure their mindsets aren’t focused on managing the after-effects of safety issues is vital and a system of peer recognition will go a long way to achieving that.
10. In many cases, safety practitioners who have a longstanding focus on metrics and command and control methods but need to improve their approach to the ‘softer’ side of employee engagement.
This may mean working more closely with HR and training and development colleagues to make health and safety personal. A culture of peers looking out for each other in a collaborative, supportive environment rather than box-ticking compliance can be underpinned by a peer recognition approach that allows colleagues to recognise and thank each other for spotting and handling threats to their safety. It is time to make the subject personal and support a healthy workplace culture where good behaviour is recognised.
Recognition has a major impact on employee engagement, and formalising recognition will help build the levels of engagement required to underpin a safety culture. The evidence shows that engaged employees are more likely to abide by safe working practice. A Gallup study, State of the American Workplace, showed that engaged employees outperform less engaged personnel. They have lower absenteeism and turnover rates, better quality of work and fewer safety incidents. Work units in the top quartile for engagement saw significantly fewer safety incidents (48% fewer) than bottom quartile units.