Positive and Negative Reinforcement
There are various strategies for administering positive and negative consequences. Careful planning is critical to ensure consequences are effective. So, let’s first look at positive and negative reinforcement and why positive reinforcement is best for producing a world-class safety culture.
Positive reinforcement uses consequence strategies that increase the frequency of desired behaviours through positive recognition and/or reward. Consequences for safe behaviours that meet or exceed expectations should include some form of positive recognition and/or reward. Consequently, workers will believe that they will be recognised if they do something well.
Knowing that “desired” performance may not always be safe is important. Unfortunately, this may be true in safety cultures where it is more important to work fast than safely. In this instance, working fast takes top priority over safety. Prioritizing safety is especially true when the employer is under pressure to finish a project on time.
10 Examples Of Positive Reinforcement
- Verbal praise
- Written commendations
- Personal notes of appreciation
- Bonuses or awards
- Extra time off
- Gift certificates or vouchers
- Safety celebrations and recognition events
- Public recognition for a job well done
- Special lunches or dinners
- Favourable job assignments or promotions
Here are some examples showing how perceived positive recognition can increase both safe and unsafe behaviours:
- Recognition that increases safe performance: Your supervisor thanks you if you comply with all the safety rules.
- Recognition that increases unsafe performance: Your supervisor gives you time off if you finish ahead of schedule, even if you jeopardize your safety.
Essential criteria to remember about positive reinforcement include:
- It increases desired performance, and employees may work far beyond mere compliance to be recognized.
- The desired performance can be safe or unsafe. If the desired performance is to work fast, employees will prioritize working quickly, not safely.
- This strategy is more common when employers value rather than prioritize safety.
- Employees may perform far beyond minimum standards through voluntary effort.
- If the desired performance standard is to work safely, no matter what – it’s a value-based safety culture. It’s “safe production or no production.”
This recognition is the most effective in achieving a world-class safety culture.
Negative reinforcement is the use of consequence strategies that attempt to increase the frequency of desired behaviours by withholding negative consequences. Workers will believe if they do something the employer wants, they will avoid negative consequences. If the employer wants safety, these strategies will be less effective because workers are generally only trying to do what is necessary to “stay out of trouble”.
Essential criteria of negative reinforcement include:
- Employees will perform only to avoid the perceived negative consequences – nothing else.
- The desired performance may be safe or unsafe.
- This strategy is more common when employers prioritize rather than value safety.
- Employees will perform to a minimum standard but not beyond: just enough to stay out of trouble.
- The focus is on compliance, not excellence. It’s a fear-based strategy.
- If the desired performance standard is to work fast, not safely – it’s a priority-based safety culture. Production takes priority over safety.
- This strategy is less effective in achieving a world-class safety culture.
Once again, the outcome depends on the performance the employer wants. Hopefully, the employer values safety, but that’s not always the case.
10 Examples Of Negative Reinforcement
- Fines or citations
- Written reprimands or warnings
- Unfavourable job assignments
- Lost privileges such as telecommuting
- No time off or extra privileges
- Loss of bonuses or awards
- Decrease in pay or benefits
- Public humiliation for unsafe behaviour
- Withholding recognition for a job well done
- Demotion or suspension
Here are some more examples that show how negative reinforcementcan increase both safe and unsafe performance:
- Recognition that increases safe performance: The supervisor promises you won’t be reprimanded you if you comply with safety rules, so you are sure to follow the rules.
- Recognition that increases unsafe performance: The supervisor yells at you for not working fast enough to finish a hazardous job on time.