Thoughts on changing employee behaviour towards safety

Thoughts on changing employee behaviour towards safety elearning and video

A common complaint I've heard from a few organisations is lack of employee motivation to follow safety systems.

I've been thinking about this problem over the last couple of weeks and have come up with some ideas.

What will not work

  • Telling people that they have to follow the system. This is not the way change happens. Think about all the smokers that know they should give up smoking but keep on smoking.   
  • Telling people it's a legal requirement. This doesn't work because we don't normally change because of for negative reason. Fear can be used as a trigger to gain attention, but it will not be the motivation for long-lasting change.
  • A one-off face-to-face or e-Learning program that is just a series of PowerPoint slides won't work. We learn from experience and the people around us.

Brain science has shown that humans seek rewards and positive changes that make life easier. Changing behaviour means literally rewiring the brain"”and that is hard.

Possible strategies that might work

Changing the safety systems

Instead of focusing on training, which is expensive and time consuming, changing the systems might bring the greatest return on investment.  

  • Make following the safety system a KPI for the individual, the teams and the  organisation. Focus on rewarding and measuring the positive behaviour, e.g., hours worked without incidents.
  • Build the system with the employees. Take a group of some the most difficult employees and work with them to build a system they think might work. Focus on making the system faster and easier to use. Think about something that is highly visual and integrated into the workflow. This works well in a consultative environment, but it does take time and good leadership.

Learning experiences

1) A story-based approach
Make a series of videos of peers talking about following the systems. Make the stories personal and emotional. The videos could be fictional or perhaps case studies from other organisations. What is important is that the people telling the stories are peers of the learners, and the stories focus on positive rewards.

The videos could be placed on tablet computers that are shared by a team, and even taken home. There is a novelty factor with tablets, and tablet computers require only minimum IT skills.

We are starting to see this type of peer-based story telling being used in safe driving campaigns for young people because it works well.

2) A simulation approach

We know that we learn from experience. Simulations are a great way for learners to  explore cause and effect in complex environments. In high-risk areas such as healthcare, the armed forces and the mining industries use simulations extensively. A few years ago I interviewed Deanna Hutchison from the Mining Industry Skills Centre about Project Canary, which is a safety training simulation for the mining industry.

Simulations can be low tech. Some low-cost ideas include using Lego for building the graphics and choosing you own adventure-style interactions.
Simulation-based learning is a process of awareness, practice, then reflecting. The simulation could consist of a problem that the learners then need to figure out how to fix. They could explore how things went wrong and what they would change. Once again, it could be tablet based, and it could be part of a short, facilitated face-to-face session.

How to make these learning experiences more effective 

A few ways of making both learning experiences more effective are as follows:

  • Finish the workshops or online program with an individual safety action plan
  • Conduct follow-up phone calls and coaching about the action plan
  • Instead of day-long sessions or one-off eLearning, split the program into shorter sessions over a longer period with online activities in between.

A coaching approach

Coaching is possibly one of the most effective but highest-cost strategies.

All of these approaches could be combined into the following sequence:

  • Change the KPIs  
  • Story telling"”to activate the motivation to change
  • Employee-built systems"”to build the right system with stakeholder involvement
  • Simulations"”to learn and practice the new behaviours in a highly interactive way
  • Coaching"”to make sure the new behaviours learnt through the simulations are applied in the workplace