How to Improve Safety Behaviors Using Positive Consequences

Improve safety behaviors using positive consequences
Clyde, like me, responds best to positive consequences such as praise or recognition when he exhibits the behaviors I require of him.

Like many people, I recently adopted a dog. Actually, I adopted a puppy that I named Clyde from a local dog rescue. One of the positive consequences of the pandemic is that adoptions of rescue dogs are at an all-time high.

Clyde came home with me at 14 weeks, a bundle of energy and affection who turned out to be a mix every dog breed I never wanted rolled into one, and I say that with affection and love.

I’m a big advocate of training, both for dogs and for people. I’ll even take it a step further: I’m a big advocate of positive training, for dogs and for people. Clyde is rewarded when he does something he’s ask to do: sit, stay, give paw, come when called, walk nicely on his leash or stop barking. (Can you hear the laughter in the background? That’s my coworkers chuckling when they read this, because they’ve become well acquainted with Clyde’s vocal abilities during Zoom calls.)

Clyde is a year old now – he was a pre-pandemic adoption – and we’re still working on training and still doing it with patience, positive reinforcement and rewards, because it makes Clyde happy and eager to learn and do what he’s asked to do.

Positive feedback – positive consequences – works on people as well as puppies, as it turns out. Dr. E. Scott Geller, in the article “The Power of Positive Consequences” on EHSToday.com, notes, “Behavioral scientists have demonstrated consistently that positive consequences are more effective than negative consequences at improving behavior.”

Positive Consequences Create Grateful Employees

According to Geller, research indicates that the state of feeling grateful, something people often feel for being recognized for positive behavior, enhances positive emotions and provides a sense of interpersonal belonging, and decreases stress and depression. “In fact,” writes Geller, “people are more likely to help others—perform acts of kindness—when they feel grateful.”

He adds that since studies have shown that expressing interpersonal gratitude has beneficial results, “it would be advantageous if the delivery of a positive consequence to increase the frequency of a desirable behavior included an explicit expression of gratitude.” And be sincere and genuine about it: “Your PPE use for that job is right on, including the wearing of a COVID-prevention mask. Thank you so much for setting the safe example for others.”

60 Percent Never Say Thank You

Interestingly – even alarmingly – Geller cites a survey that found that 60 percent of more than 2,000 respondents reported that they never or very rarely thank anyone at work, with 74 percent saying they “never or rarely” express gratitude to their boss. This surprised me, because I’m fortunate to work in an environment where people regularly express gratitude and thanks, to bosses, direct reports and coworkers. As my mother always told me: “Honey catches more flies than vinegar.” In this case, the honey is the praise and gratitude for the positive behavior we’re trying to reinforce.

This concept is reinforced by Geller, who says, “When you thank someone for the performance of safe or health-related behavior, you’re increasing the probability the safe behavior will continue and you’re enhancing [their feelings of well being].”

I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your day to read this blog post. We appreciate your engagement with our blog and our web site.

Now, who can you thank?

Other Intelex content you might find interesting:

The Power of Gratitude: Taking a Closer Look at What We’re Thankful for this Thanksgiving

Safe+Sound Week and Leaders2Leaders: What Should Today’s Health & Safety Professionals Prioritize?

Big Data and Our Behavior-Based Safety Checklist: Are You Doing the ‘Right Stuff?

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About Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the Global EHSQ Content Lead for Intelex Technologies. Formerly the Content Director for EHS Today, she has been writing about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990. Her work as a journalist and editor has been recognized with national and international awards. She has been interviewed about occupational safety and health for national business publications, documentaries and television programs; has served as a panelist on roundtables; and has provided the keynote address for occupational safety and health conferences.

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