Feature Article - March/April 2019

Safety First

Structured Programs Help Meet Safety Goals

By Deborah L. Vence

Rewards That Work

Typically, no one-size-fits-all reward exists in safety recognition, or any other type of incentive or recognition program. Thus, it is important to ensure that the employee is recognized publicly.

"Public recognition is often the part of recognition that an employee values the most," Chrobak said. "It is also a great way to promote the program by letting employees see the value of understanding and adhering to safe workplace behaviors.

"The value of the recognition being given, or the total potential value of a recognition that employees can receive can also determine the type of reward that is offered," she said. "For example, if it is a lesser-value one-time award vs. the ability to earn awards throughout the year, this will drive what types of awards are offered."

Some effective tangible awards include:

  • Brand-name merchandise.
  • Gift cards.
  • Corporate logoed apparel or merchandise items.
  • Safety apparel or equipment required in the workplace that employees may have to purchase on their own, such as work boots or safety glasses.

Non-tangible awards are effective motivators, too, including:

  • Public recognition or praise.
  • Free lunch.
  • Prime parking spot.
  • Extra time off from work.

"Rewards depend on the company's culture, demographics and geographics," Dolan said. "They should contain a balance of symbolic awards as well as lifestyle awards, meaning 'tangible things' people desire."

He said the IRS allows for these elements to be a non-tax event within certain guidelines, whereas cash, travel, meals and entertainment do not meet IRS requirements.

"There may also be other things unique to a company's culture to make for an award outside of the typical merchandise range of awards. This is where your task force can get creative," he said. "At minimum, rewards work best when there is choice and the reward options ensure 'something for everyone'."

"The mistake that some companies make is that they ask their workers what they would want for awards and, of course, the vast majority will say they want more money; that is just human nature," Galonek said.

"What they should instead be asking themselves is, 'What type of awards will be the most memorable for employees and will best lead to long-lasting behavior change?'" he said. "The answer to that question is tangible brand-name awards and experiential travel. Program participants need to be able to remember the awards they receive to close the loop and fully connect that safe behavior is rewarding and only tangible awards like a golf club, TV or weekend getaway can create long-lasting memories. Cash is forgotten almost instantly after receipt, where tangible awards can literally be remembered for decades."

Slagle suggested that effective awards include merchandise from a broad range of choices—from a selection incorporated into a catalog provided to the employees, rewards points to be redeemed later, reasonably priced plaques, trophies, etc.

"Given the IRS guidance, it's clear that cash and cash equivalents aren't permitted, nor are extravagant awards and gifts that may have been used in the past," Slagle said. "Also, given the monetary limits described above, it's clear that really expensive merchandise doesn't fit in a qualified plan.

"What type of merchandise or tangible personal property works best likely ties to the employer's work culture, type of business, type of safety issues, etc.," he said. "For example, and not to generalize, if the employer is a construction company employing individuals working outdoors in a physically challenging work environment, merchandise that matches the work habits and personal interests of that particular demographic might work best.

"Considerate employers will seek the opinions of their employees," he added, "and have them help design the programs to ensure the awards are respected and valued."