Which Approach Works Better for Safety Incentives: Group Performance or Individual Achievement?

  • May 25, 2011

Safety Program Incentives: Group vs. Individual Goals

When putting together safety incentive programs for my clients, one of the first criteria is to determine how rewards (or awards) will be achieved

There are three most popular methods of keeping score of safety success:

1) Individual Goals: Usually this takes into account accident free days, in addition to perfect attendance, safety meetings and education, being “caught” doing things correctly (wearing safety goggles and ear protection), etc.

2) Team Goals: In order to encourage safer working habits or procedures, team goals encourage peer pressure, as it is believed that fellow workers will do a better job of encouraging safe working habits or procedures than management.

3) Hybrid Goals: This combination system allows some individual goals in addition to team goals, as the name implies

So, which system works best?

It would seem logical that the hybrid approach is most effective. It allows team goals to be combined with extra diligence and hard work of individuals.

As we know, all workers are not created equally, so some employees will work harder than others earn additional points – and a hybrid formula encourages those employees to outperform their peers.

However, in 25 years of running safety programs, our findings are that individual performance goals outperform both team based goals and the hybrid approach.

This is for two main reasons, both revolving around peer pressure:

1) Pressure to Hide or Under-Report Accidents: It has been reported over the years that employees that are earning points for accident-free days or months will certainly try to “persuade” their co-workers not to report minor accidents or to cover up misdeeds.

Because of this pressure (some of which may be closer to coercion or outright threats than persuasion), this cover-up can have negative impact on team spirit and togetherness.

In fact, for years, OSHA has warned against team incentive programs, particularly those that it deemed could promote under-reporting.

I have even seen examples of “gangs” that will not allow accident to go reported—sort of like a prison gang mentality.

Granted, this is not the norm, but when one person can negatively affect an entire team or shift of workers from earning awards (which can often be quite substantial for year-on-year carryover achievement), strange things can happen

2) Pressure to Not Get Ahead of Peers: Nobody likes a show-off, and workers that are going to extra safety meetings or taking additional safety education classes can be mocked, shunned or warned by fellow employees.

Workers that have families, have longer commutes, are taking night classes or cannot (or just will not) participate in extracurricular activities may encourage their peers to slow down so they do not look badly in the eyes of management. Especially in this slow economy, nobody wants to be a glaring example at the bottom of the point earning poster/spreadsheet or called out for low score at safety meetings.

There are unfortunate unforeseen consequences that happen when the fate of an individual is in the hands of a group.

Most Americans do not like socialism (Tea Party anyone?), and everything other than individual achievement can leave a sour taste in the mouths of your employees.

Before setting up your safety program, look beyond the obvious. If you have a safety program already in place, perhaps it time to re-evaluate how points are awarded.

Here’s to a safer work place.


  • Category: Blog, Incentive Programs
  • Tags: determining safety rewards, digital incentives, digital rewards, group goals vs. individual goals in safety programs, most effective safety programs, motivating employees, safety awards, safety incent