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Fostering a Culture of Safety Engagement: From Volunteers to Genuine Participation

Updated: Jul 19

Creating a strong safety culture relies on active engagement and participation from employees. However, many organizations struggle to find willing volunteers for safety improvement initiatives. Instead of understanding the underlying reasons, they resort to forced selection, resulting in disengaged "volun-tolds." In this blog article, we will explore the concept of de-motivators and perceptions that influence safety volunteerism. By addressing these factors and creating a desirable culture, we can foster genuine participation and build a safe workplace where everyone proactively contributes.

Understanding De-Motivators

De-motivators are factors that dampen an individual's intrinsic motivation and discourage involvement. Most people are naturally motivated to take pride in their work and do their best. However, certain job designs or interactions with supervisors can erode this intrinsic motivation, leading to feelings of demotivation and even contempt towards their job. Unfortunately, when de-motivators affect people's perception of safety, it becomes challenging to motivate the discretionary effort required to achieve and sustain safety excellence.

The Influence of Perceptions

Safety differs from other work activities as it offers both external and internal benefits. So, why do some individuals hesitate to participate in safety initiatives? The answer lies in perceptions, which can be influenced by de-motivators. Negative experiences or perspectives shared by influential individuals can shape group perceptions that reinforce a culture resistant to safety participation. New employees joining the team are also influenced by these established perceptions. Recognizing the power of cultural reinforcement is vital in addressing occupational safety challenges.

Creating New Experiences for Perceptual Change

Perceptions are internal responses within individuals, making it impossible to force a perceptual change. To shift perceptions, organizations must create new experiences that provide opportunities for perceptual changes to occur. Short-term behavioral change can be forced, but it does not align with the goal of fostering a lasting culture of safety engagement. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." Similarly, true engagement cannot be forced; it must be nurtured through meaningful experiences.

Common Perceptions Impacting Safety Volunteerism

During employee interviews, several common perceptions that affect safety volunteerism emerged. Understanding these perceptions can help organizations identify areas for improvement. Some of these perceptions include:

  1. Lack of status updates for employee suggestions and safety work order systems.

  2. Ineffectiveness of existing volunteers and a belief that participation does not lead to improvement.

  3. The perception that safety efforts do not address the most significant risks or concerns.

  4. Production is being prioritized over safety in communication.

  5. Lack of visible support from immediate supervisors.

  6. Fear of punishment for involvement or negative consequences for diverting attention from job tasks.

The Takeaway Principle

When employees perceive stronger incentives against involvement or fear negative consequences, it is unrealistic to expect willing volunteers. The prevailing approach in performance management suggests that internal motivation for involvement already exists, and the focus should be on removing barriers. Instead of relying on "volun-tolds" or incentives, organizations should strive to create a culture where employees proactively care about safety and feel recognized for their contributions. This requires addressing de-motivators and fostering an environment that encourages genuine engagement.

Safety is a serious matter that demands active participation from all employees. To build a culture of safety engagement, organizations must understand and address de-motivators that hinder intrinsic motivation. By recognizing the influence of perceptions, organizations can work towards creating new experiences that foster perceptual changes. Rather than relying on forced participation or incentives, organizations should strive to create a desirable culture where employees genuinely care about safety and contribute proactively. Remember, safety is no laughing matter, and genuine engagement is the key to building a safe and thriving workplace.

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