Course 117 Safety Recognition Programs

Rules and Ideas

Are you OK? Do you even exist?
The lonely back roads of Oregon.


Over the years, while driving down the long lonely back roads of Oregon to visit companies as an OR-OSHA Training Specialist, I decided to pass the time by coming up with some rules for effectively recognizing safety performance. To make it more of a challenge, each rule had to start with the letter "S." After a few years I finally developed 18 rules for recognition. (If you can think of more, please send it to me!)

If you apply each of the rules for recognizing co-workers, I think you'll have a dramatic positive impact on your relationship with others, the company's safety culture, and your company's long-term success. Give them a try. Steven Geigle, CET, CSHM, OSHAcademy

Rules for Recognition

It's important to understand that the primary message throughout these rules is that effective recognition is primarily a function of leadership, not management. Leadership is all about saying, and more importantly doing things that develop positive working relationships that result in employees doing a good job for you because they want to. Otherwise, employees will do only what they have to do to stay out of trouble. So, let's take a look at these Rules for Recognition:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
  1. Security: Security is Maslow's second-most basic psychological need (See video). Employees want to feel secure in their job. To promote feelings of security, be sure to include safety recognition and rewards employees have received in their performance appraisals. If employees know safety is being addressed in their performance appraisals, they will believe management considers safety performance as important. Consequently, employees are more likely to perform up to and beyond established standards.
  2. Selection: If you're providing tangible rewards as part of your safety recognition program (e.g. money, pizza, mugs, gifts, etc.), it's a good idea to let employees choose from a selection of gifts. Do not assume everyone places the same value on any given tangible reward. The old saying, "one man's trash is another man's treasure," is certainly true. For instance, one employee might value a gift card while another person might consider a card as having little value, but would prefer a day off work. Give employees the ability to choose tangible rewards because they will naturally pick the reward that is most valuable to them.
  3. Selflessness: You should be motivated to recognize employees for the right reasons. The purpose of the recognition is to highlight the great performance of your employee. Leaders should not be motivated by an self-serving attempt to show others how wonderful you and the organization are. Recognition that's motivated by selfish reasons will be perceived as disingenuous. Recognition is all about the employee, not you.

1. Which of the following "Rules for Recognition" apply when employees are allowed to choose from among a variety of rewards?

a. Surety
b. Security
c. Reception
d. Selection

Rules for Recognition (Continued)

Are you OK? Do you even exist?
Shake hands with a smile.
  1. Sensitivity: Be sensitive to the wishes of the person you're recognizing. You don't want to recognize a person in a way that they may not want or appreciate. For instance, a student told me she promptly quit her position as a safety committee chairperson after being publicly recognized in front of everyone for her great work over the previous year. When asked why she quit the position, she said, "I never want to be recognized in front of people like that again!" Before you recognize employees, ask them if they are comfortable with being recognized in public.
  2. Shake hands! Don't forget to shake the hand of the person you're recognizing. The more senses used to recognize, the better: sight, sound, and touch are all good. All that, plus some pizza would sure work for me. In today's world, you might even consider a "fist bump," or a "high five," especially with younger employees.
  3. Smile! It's not what you say, it's how you say it! Be sure to smile when you give positive recognition. This simple rule is one of the most important because it sends a positive "relationship" message that complements the "content" of the message you're sending. The employee receiving your recognition will be affected more by the relationship message than the content of the message.

2. According to the Rules for Recognition, why is it important to smile when telling someone you appreciate their work?

a. Smiling is not always perceived as genuine
b. Smiling complements the content of the message
c. Smiling says you're not serious about the message content
d. Employees are more affected by content than feelings

Rules for Recognition (Continued)

Pizza works for us!
  1. Significance: Recognition should be thought of by the receiver as significant, and therefore special. The significance of the recognition is determined by the person who receives it, not the person giving the recognition. You know that recognition has been significant in the heart and mind of the receiver when it increases the frequency of desired behavior in the employee and possibly others.
  2. Sincerity: Be totally sincere when recognizing employees for their performance. People will know you're sincere most likely by the tone of your voice. So when you tell someone you appreciate them, mean it! The more "heart-driven" the recognition, the more likely it will affect the heart as well as the head of the receiver. That is what recognition is all about.
  3. Simplicity: Keep recognition simple. A simple expression of appreciation may be all that is required to be considered significant to the employee. A simple "great job!" can change a life, especially with young people. I like to encourage others to always be the first person to say "hi" when meeting others each day. Do that for six months and you'll see a real improvement in your work relationships. Keep it simple - make it fun!

3. When recognizing people, they will know you're sincere most likely _____.

a. if you have a firm handshake
b. when you don't blink your eyes
c. by the tone of your voice
d. if you look down and to the left

Rules for Radical Recognition (Continued)

Don't wait - recognize immediately.
  1. Singleness: It's more effective to single out individuals and recognize their personal achievement. If you recognize a group or team, that's fine, but make sure you mention each individual's contribution to the achievement of the team's goal.
  2. Specificity: Pinpoint the employee's specific achievement. Be careful that your recognition is based on facts, not just feeling. Don't establish recognition schemes that reward employees for just being lucky. Emphasize the positive impact that the employee's performance had on improving safety, production, or services. It's important people know precisely how the employee has impacted the success of the organization.
  3. Speed: Recognize employees as soon as you can after the behavior or achievement. The old adage, "the sooner the better," certainly applies to effective recognition. I remember a story of a co-worker who received formal recognition to mark 15-years of work with an organization. It was policy to give everyone recognition every five years. He received a form letter and, what appeared to him to be a cheap pen. But, what really irritated him was that he had not received the recognition for six months after the 15-year achievement date. Do you think that the formal recognition policy was effective, or that the recognition, itself, was appreciated? Was the "story" he told me and others positive, and did it make me look forward to a similar award? Remember, the longer you wait to recognize, the less effective will be the recognition.

4. Which of the following is TRUE concerning effective recognition for safety?

a. The old adage, "the sooner the better," applies
b. Recognize only at scheduled occasions
c. Never single out individuals when recognizing groups
d. Don't be too specific or wordy when recognizing

Rules for Radical Recognition (Continued)

Show spirit: Be spontaneous!
  1. Spirit: Have some spirited fun when you recognize. Don't be afraid to show how happy you are about the performance of your employee. I remember another story about a boy scout leader who told the boys that if they grew the troop to 65 scouts, he would put on a grass skirt and do a hula dance. Well, they did it, and danced the hula at the next meeting. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun. I'm not saying you should go out and do a hula dance, but just realize that a spirited presentation like that can be quite effective.
  2. Spontaneity: Don't be afraid to be spontaneous when recognizing someone. You don't have to necessarily schedule or plan a formal awards ceremony. We encourage supervisors to recognize employees "on the spot" when they see an employee doing something that impresses them. Unplanned recognition is more likely to be perceived as heart-driven than policy-driven: Thus, more effective.
  3. Stability: Keep your recognition program stable and predictable. Don't change the rules of the game, or the criteria for recognition too often. And, if you do make a change, make it a small one. You may intend to improve the program, but the change you make may actually function to make the program less effective. If you make many changes in a program, and the program is a disaster, you won't know which one of the changes is causing the result. Bottom line, employees need to know that the performance criteria, and the form of recognition, won't disappear or change before they've worked so hard to achieve the criteria.

5. If you find that your recognition program is not working as intended, what should you do?

a. Find a good consultant to fix it
b. Blame it on poor employee attitudes
c. Throw the program out and start over from scratch
d. Make a small change to the program and test it

Rules for Radical Recognition (Continued)

Don't create one winner. Create many winners!
  1. Standards: Develop clear, criterion-based standards of individual and group performance. I know it's a common practice, but do not reward your employees for being first, best, most improved, or lucky. Doing that generally creates one winner and many losers and of course, the losers don't like it. You know what I'm talking about, because it's probably happened to you. In a worst-case scenario, the organization creates standards that are perceived by employees as being a function of internal politics, or political correctness, rather than personal achievement. Recognition based on internal politics is absolutely worthless. Remember, personal criterion-based recognition works best. Bottom line: Everyone who meets or exceeds the criteria for recognition, gets recognized. You have the potential to create many winners, and that's what you want.
  2. Subtlety: Be subtle when recognizing. You don't have to make recognition a big public display. Recognition in private has been shown to be generally more effective than public recognition. Believe it or not, most people do not like to be paraded in front of their peers to be recognized.
  3. Surety: Employees need to be sure that if they achieve your criteria for recognition, you will keep your promise and recognize them. Unfortunately, the number one reason employees do not trust management is that supervisors and managers lack integrity: they do not do what they said they were going to do. If you follow through with promised recognition, your employees will be more likely to achieve the desired level of performance: you can be sure of that.
  4. Staying-Power: If you have or are developing a recognition program, make sure that you build staying power behind it. Any type of recognition that is received by some but not by others, later on, can make your intent of recognition seem insincere. (Thanks to Patrick Bucksot for this rule.)

Well, we hope that helps you understand how to effectively recognize others. If you can think of another rule, let us know. The only requirement is the rule must be summarized with a word that starts with the letter "S". Good luck!

6. What is the best strategy to ensure your recognition is most effective?

a. Recognition is criterion-based to create many winners
b. Recognition is merit-based to create one winner
c. Recognition is universal so everyone wins
d. Recognition is withheld because that's what they get paid to do

The Safety "Butterfly Effect"

Are you OK? Do you even exist?

The "butterfly effect" says that any small change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. For example: Every time a supervisor gives an employee positive recognition for a safe behavior, it reinforces that behavior and makes it more likely to occur in the future.

That small interaction between the supervisor and employee may also send a positive message about safety that has a ripple effect throughout the entire organization. You can't really predict exactly what might result, but it could result in an increase in that same and other safe behaviors, both in the workplace and at home.

On the other hand, if a supervisor yells at employees for "complaining," a very negative message is sent. It says employees are, in some way, not "OK." And, just as the butterfly effect occurs with positive recognition, negative messages can have a profound negative impact on production, services, and morale.

However, I think the worst possible form of recognition occurs when employees are totally ignored no matter how great their performance is. That sends the message that they don't exist. Let's talk a little more about the negative impact of ignoring others.

7. According to the "butterfly effect," what will happen when a supervisor recognizes an employee for a safe behavior?

a. The interaction is an isolated instance
b. The interaction will only affect the local environment
c. The interaction may cause relationships to fly apart
d. The interaction may have effects throughout the organization

A Word About Ignoring

The act of ignoring is the absence of recognition, either positive or negative. Unfortunately, ignoring employee performance is quite common in the workplace. Simply ignoring employees for the good work they do, may have dramatic negative impact on safety, production, and morale. What's the excuse managers will give for ignoring excellent performance? They might respond with, "Well, why should he have to recognize them - that's what they get paid to do.

Ignoring others, regardless of the reason, sends a very negative message that they are invisible, non-existent, and unimportant. Ignoring others who are trying to communicate is the worst response possible. It doesn't matter why you are ignoring them; they will think the worst, they won't like it, and they'll probably be upset with you.

Caveat: If a supervisor ignores an unsafe behavior, he or she has transformed the related mandatory safety rule into a discretionary guideline. When that happens, the employer is not justified in disciplining, and OSHA may cite the employer for failure to enforce safety rules.

If you want to have better working relationships with co-workers, always be the first to say "hi" when you meet them for the day. Always be first. It sends a positive message.

8. What is the likely reaction when an employee is unintentionally ignored by a co-worker?

a. They won't care about it or the co-worker
b. They will forgive the co-worker
c. They will try to get your attention
d. They won't like it, and they will be upset


Are you OK? Do you even exist?
Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest.

We need to finish the course on a positive note. Take a look at the list of ideas below. It's not complete, but it's a good start. Remember, all types of recognition are not equally effective for everyone because, as you know, "one man's trash is another man's treasure."

The effectiveness of any particular type of recognition depends on the person receiving the recognition, not the type of recognition, itself. The list is adapted from the article, 40 Ways to Say Thank You at Work, by Susan M. Heathfield in the balance:

  • Spoken words - Just say thanks.
  • Money - Pay raise; bonus; gift certificates; or cash awards.
  • Positive attention - stop by talk informally; give positive performance feedback; give public praise; take an employee out to lunch.
  • Encourage personal development - send people to training and conferences; ask employees to present at a meeting; develop a plan for the employee's career advancement.
  • Treats - pizza; cookies; gelato; popcorn; etc. - have employees give you ideas.
  • The work itself - provide cross-training; provide job enrichment; increase self-management; ask the employee to represent the department; give employee opportunity to develop goals and direction; ask employee to participate in decision-making.
  • Drawings - keep them on the light side; especially if only one employee wins. (Drawings are an example of recognition based on luck, so we don't recommend them if they result in serious awards.)
  • Gifts - let them choose - merchandise; gift certificates; catalog gifts.
  • Symbols and Honors - plaques; certificates; larger work area; better equipment; other status symbols.
  • Benefits - life insurance; retirement; medical; profit sharing; partnership; stocks; parking space; memberships.

9. Which of the following types of recognition is most effective?

a. It depends on the person receiving the recognition
b. All types are equally effective
c. Positive attention like public recognition
d. Benefits and perks like profit sharing or parking spaces

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Recognizing employees effectively: International Hall of Fame business speaker Michael Kerr with six questions to make your employee recognition programs more effective, more meaningful. For more ideas on effective employee recognition and rewards and other inspiring workplace ideas, sign up for the raved about Humor at Work Inspiring Workplaces weekly e-zine.

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