Some people look at this and say that all incentives are potentially problematic, and that could be true in terms of what you are incentivizing. Why are you
doing it, and how are you doing it? But if you are dead-set on doing an incentiv-ized program, a nonmonetary program is a more reasonable way to start.
FAB: Do people of various ages react differently to incentives?
Dony: I don’t know that there is a whole lot of research that I’ve seen that looks
at the age differential. I will say that certainly a hot topic in the EHS field is how
different demographics react to different things and communication styles. I
would suspect that there is some differentiation in how they respond to incentive programs as well.
But I think it’s universal that people respond to positive motivation. That
seems to hold pretty true with everyone.
FAB: Does the success of any type of incentive program depend on the actions
of upper management?
Dony: I would say that there are a lot of theories and models out there that culture begins with leadership or that leaders cast a big shadow on an individual
site or facility. But at the same time, a lot of members of the Campbell Institute
and more mature organizations realize that it’s a two-way street.
You don’t generate culture in a vacuum. You don’t generate support for EHS
or any other program in a vacuum. You can have a very well-thought-out and
sound program that’s created in an office somewhere, but when it’s put out in
the field, and if the folks doing the work aren’t engaged, it won’t matter how
good the program may or may not be. The secret is to have engagement from
all sides to make relative change.
Members of the institute offer good examples of employee-owned programs
that may have been cooked up on the corporate side somewhere, but the shop
floor and those engaged in the day-to-day work determine how it’s executed
and how it’s run.
As far as how incentives support that, from my own perspective, if you have
someone empowered and owning something, knowing that they can go in and
make a change and that their voice will be heard, that is a much more powerful supporting element that any sticker or dollar value that you can place on
something. This seems to hold true for a lot of organizations that we work with.
That’s not to say that incentives can’t be a supporting mechanism, but I think
that you can buy a vote or you can generate a vote with someone’s heart or
someone’s mind. It’s much more sustainable to have gotten that vote with real
good intent through someone’s heart or mind rather than with even the most
nonmonetary token incentive.
FAB: Do larger companies have an advantage over smaller ones in being able
to dedicate EHS people to develop and sustain these nonincentivized safety
Dony: It’s a good question. There is always going to be the question of resourcing. Even in larger organizations, this question is often asked: Do we have the
right number of people working on this? Do we have too few or too many?
As someone in my own organization who has to wear a couple of hats, I find
it’s really hard to build engagement or ownership of something when it’s just
part of your job and not your entire job.
I can certainly see a case being made for incentives as a more powerful tool
when it is a shortcut for smaller organizations wanting to draw attention to
some desired action.
Wellness programs are a classic example of that. A lot of organizations don’t
have a fleet of full-time wellness professionals. Very often it’s the human resources person or someone on the EHS committee who is engaged in that. And
a lot of classic incentives get used for things like wellness programs, such as reductions in premiums. So, yeah, I can certainly see a case being made for small
organizations. You have less of an ability to build that buy-in day in and day
out. Incentives can be a much more useful opportunity for you to do a variety
of different things.
I don’t know if it’s a matter of scale. It’s certainly a matter of how many other
things you are being tasked with doing and how many other things that you can
focus on a day-to-day basis if you are leading a program or running an initiative
FAB: Any words of advice for a company examining its use of incentives as
part of its safety program?
Dony: My overall message is that we really need to think about any tool we want
to use and the potential consequences of it. If you just think about the positives
connected to a particular incentive, it leaves you really blind to the potential
negatives you could be creating right below the surface.
It’s not whether a particular incentive is right or wrong or useful or not useful.
If you are using something without thinking it through, you are in for a pretty
Editor-in-Chief Dan Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Dony is director, the Campbell Institute, National Safety Council, 1121 Spring
Lake Drive, Itasca, IL 60143, 630-285-1121, email@example.com, www.thecamp