Igniting Motivation in Safety: The Key to Excellence
Updated: Jul 18
When you think about your organization's safety efforts, does it fill you with motivation or leave you feeling demotivated? This is a question I often pose in workshops, and it is astonishing how many workers perceive safety programs as demotivating. Leaders consistently seek ways to engage employees in safety efforts and foster a culture that sustains excellent safety performance. One answer to this challenge lies in making safety more motivating.
The Evolution of Motivation
Motivation is not currently a hot topic in most businesses. The overemphasis on reward and incentive programs, coupled with an inundation of books on motivation over the past two decades, has dampened its appeal. The conventional view of motivation as a hyperactive energy boost for employees has given way to the concept of identifying and controlling the factors that influence workplace performance. Motivation has transitioned into a focus on aligning and shaping performance rather than simply energizing it.
Motivation and Safety Culture
The degree of enthusiasm exhibited by workers when attempting to control motivators or influences serves as an indicator of the culture's support for safety efforts. If the workforce lacks enthusiasm, it indicates that the safety program and overall efforts are swimming against the current of the existing culture. In such cases, safety efforts are minimal and begrudging, with workers practicing safety merely to avoid negative consequences or labels. The culture becomes one of compliance rather than collaboration, where hands and feet move but hearts and minds remain disengaged. Safety is viewed as a "have to" rather than a "want to," stifling the potential for true excellence.
The Slow Creep of De-Motivators
Interestingly, most leaders do not deliberately de-motivate safety efforts. However, they inadvertently allow de-motivators to infiltrate their management style and communication.
Over time, negative messages accumulate, eroding motivation. Some leaders may not consider motivation as part of their job description, while others fail to realize that many employees come to work already motivated. The key is to avoid extinguishing that motivation before it dissipates. When workers are asked about instances of de-motivation, three common themes emerge:
Feeling separated from leaders: When workers lack timely and detailed information or regular contact with leaders, they feel disconnected. Although organizational size and dispersion may limit face-to-face interactions, motivational leaders leverage technology to bridge the gap. Many leaders underestimate the hunger workers have for meaningful communication.
Excessive control: Workers who feel manipulated or micromanaged struggle to remain motivated. Excessive control signals a lack of trust in their ability to perform their tasks safely. Overcontrolling can be demeaning, akin to how parents guide small children. Trusted workers thrive in an environment that allows autonomy and initiative.
Ignoring worker input: When worker input is disregarded or there is no channel for collecting it in the first place, motivation wanes. Some leaders fail to solicit or accept input, while in other cases, suggestion boxes or similar mechanisms become symbols of insincerity. W. Edwards Deming emphasized that the workers hold the greatest expertise, as they are intimately involved in the work. Failing to leverage worker input hampers meaningful proactivity.
Harnessing Motivation for Safety Excellence
While motivation may not be the primary goal of a safety program, it is a vital tool for achieving the highest levels of safety performance. Demotivated workers comply grudgingly, while overly controlled workers simply meet the requirements without excelling.
Worker input through suggestions presents an untapped pool of improvement possibilities. Improving motivation for safety can be as simple as regular communication, increased autonomy, and actively soliciting input from those who perform the work.
Motivation plays a crucial role in safety excellence. By addressing the de-motivators that hinder safety efforts and embracing motivational strategies, organizations can transform their safety culture. Engaged and motivated workers become enthusiastic partners in achieving safety goals, moving beyond compliance to collaboration. Remember, safety is not just about reducing risks; it is about adding value and creating a culture where safety becomes a shared priority.