Understanding Safety Incentive Schemes, A Question of Balance

safety incentivesThere is no doubt that the darling of the safety industry is Behaviourism. Just look at the language of traditional safety and so called ‘safety differently’ and it’s all about capacity, people as objects, performance, measurement. Metrics, numerics and outputs.

Behaviourism is a 1930s worldview that understands humans as simplistic objects that respond to negative and positive reinforcement. This is the language and symbolism of Heinrich (https://safetyrisk.net/hoodwinked-by-heinrich/; https://safetyrisk.net/the-heinrich-hoodoo/ ).

If you want to work out if a certain view is behaviourist just audit the language used. If people are spoken of as objects, having ‘capacity’ and culture is spoken of as a ‘property’ or ‘product’, you know it’s behaviourist. And it doesn’t matter if it’s all wrapped up in ‘safety differently’ positive psychology, it’s still behaviourist and people remain ‘factors’ in a system.

One of the giveaways of the behaviourist view, is language that always talks about what can be done to ‘others’ to ‘change behaviours’. Surprisingly, those who speak such language never want themselves to be micro-managed or dominated by such a method.

Just read stuff like this (https://infrastructuremagazine.com.au/2022/08/17/improving-safety-behaviour-through-digitalisation/) and it doesn’t matter what technique is espoused, it’s always code about controlling others. Digital brutalism, is brutalism. You can always guarantee when you read behaviourist safety code (https://safetyrisk.net/deciphering-safety-code/; https://safetyrisk.net/more-safety-code-to-disguise-behaviourism/) it never speaks of persons, helping , care, ethics or mutuality.

Of course, most times behaviourist safety is packaged in endless code. Critical thinking is espoused as ‘negativity’ or not being ‘constructive’ thus enabling a selective approach to who gets rewarded or demonised. How convenient.

The trouble is, at the foundation of all incentive programs are the undeclared assumptions of behaviourism. These are always packed in fostering positive methods of reinforcement and negative reinforcement as if such is some kind of balance.

What is missing is all the research (that rips behaviourism to shreds) is all the research on embodied learning, the psychology of goals, the psychology of motivation, phenomenology of being, the ethics of moral value and cognitive neuroscience.

The omission of such a wealth of research from how we work with people to achieve mutual outcomes (eg. Safety) ensures that whatever incentive program is on offer will be imbalanced and short term in effectiveness.

Here are some points to consider:

  1. People are not the sum of inputs and outputs.
  2. People are not computers on top of bodies.
  3. Decision making is not brain-centric.
  4. Values are not brain-centric.
  5. Meaning and purpose is central to undertesting the psychology of motivation.
  6. The ability to control one’s own context is central to understanding motivation.
  7. Only 5% of the population respond to the notion of KPIs and behaviourist performance measures.
  8. Social meaning is central to any understanding of motivation.
  9. Very few people are inspired by financial or recognition incentives.
  10. The psychology of motivation is anchored to culture and cultural meaning.
  11. Qualitative meaning (eg. Love, acceptance, belonging, trust etc.) cannot be measured or fostered by material reward. Indeed, there is no connection between the two.
  12. Goals set by those in authority over those NOT consulted, never works (https://safetyrisk.net/ten-secrets-to-risk-and-safety-motivation-and-ownership/).
  13. Without ownership, incentive programs never work.

There is much research on the psychology of motivation (https://safetyrisk.net/motivation-and-de-motivation-in-safety/) and it demonstrates clearly that behaviourist incentives linked to outcomes are a weak and imbalanced approach to working with people to achieve mutual outcomes.

What is most worrying, is that when incentive programs begin to wane (3-6 months) next comes brutalism (the darling of BBS) because, the last thing Behaviourism can consider is questioning its worldview.

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