Self-Motivation for Injury Prevention

“Self-motivation is at the heart of creativity, responsibility, healthy behavior, and lasting change.”~  E.L. Deci, author of “Why we do what we do: Understanding self-motivation.”

Today more than ever, self-motivation is critical in the context of occupational safety. Project teams are running lean and many times team members have more job responsibilities than say four or five years ago. In any situation, but especially on today’s jobsites, workers need to hold themselves accountable to do the right things for safety. 

Without existing safety regulations, policies, and external accountability systems, many more workers would be hurt or killed on jobsites, because like it or not, employers and safety professionals need those outside motivators to hold their workforces accountable to perform work safely, and avoid at-risk behavior. Why you ask—because the safe way to perform a job is often seen as inconvenient, uncomfortable, and inefficient. On the other hand, the quick, certain, positive consequences of at-risk behavior often over-power the self-motivation required for a worker to perform his/her work as safely as possible—with or without someone watching.

So here’s the key question: What can employers and safety leaders do to support rather than inhibit the self-motivation needed to work safely when those behaviors don’t always come naturally? Answering that question is the only way construction businesses can market a perfect safety record with confidence.

10 Guidelines for Increasing Your Team’s Self-Motivation (to Work Safely)

1) Explain Why
Rules and regulations stand a better chance of being followed when accompanied by meaningful explanations that provide a rational reason for performing work safely, especially when those safe behaviors/practices don’t come naturally.

2) Admit It’s Not Easy
Acknowledge what you’re asking the team to do may not be what they want to do, but that while certain safety practices are inconvenient and/or uncomfortable, they are critical to personal safety.

3) Watch Your Language
Don’t say: “safety is a condition of employment,” and “all accidents are preventable.” This type of language reduces a person’s sense of autonomy/choice.  Why not, say: “safety is a value of our organization, which we can’t compromise.” Also, referring to injuries as accidents implies the situation was out of the control of the worker and activates the thought, “when it’s your time, it’s your time.”

4) Provide Opportunities for Choice
employees what to do instead of involving them in the decision-making process reduces their perception of choice and thus their self-motivation.  Solicit ideas and opinions from your employees during the planning, execution, and evaluation of their jobs.

5) Involve the Followers
Employees are more likely to comply with safety practices they helped to define. Plus, no one knows better than those on the front line what procedures are going to optimize the safety at their jobsite. Shouldn’t they have significant influence in the development of policy they will be asked to follow?  

6) Set SMARTS Goals
Customize process and outcome goals with individual employees and work teams. The most effective goals are SMARTS: S=Specific, M=Motivational, A=Achievable, R=Relevant, T=Trackable, and S=Shared.  Process goals reflect the steps needed to achieve en route to accomplishing a significant outcome goal—the big picture vision.    

For example, a work team might set a process goal to complete ten personal observation and feedback sessions per week for one month, aiming to increase the percentage of safe practices recorded for their team. The outcome goal would be a reduction in personal injuries. Accomplishing an outcome goal will likely take substantial time to realize, so acknowledging  the periodic accomplishments of the relevant process goals is important to keep work teams motivated and on task. 

7) Use Behavior-Based Feedback
Personal recognition and approval is key to cultivating a self-motivated safety culture. Unfortunately, supervisors are often more likely to notice and reprimand undesirable behavior than recognize and acknowledge desirable behavior. Thus, the term ‘feedback’ carries negative connotations. 

The perception that feedback is going to be negative can be changed if supervisors give more supportive than corrective feedback.  Suppose your supervisor asks to see you at the end of the day for a feedback session and gives only supportive feedback, defining specific commendable behaviors s/he had observed and expressing sincere appreciation for your efforts.

How would you feel after that conversation? Would you share this positive experience with other team members? Would other team members’ perception of feedback change begin to change?

8) Give Corrective Feedback Well
A self-motivated safety culture cannot be established without both supportive feedback for safe behavior and corrective feedback for at-risk behavior. When correcting at-risk behavior, be non-confrontational, listen to excuses, and emphasize the positive over the negative—at-risk behavior should not be approached as an indictment of a person’s attitude, values, or personality.

It’s critical to emphasize the corrective feedback is only about behavior observed and not a judgment of the individual. Beneficial changes in your company’s safety culture will occur when supervisors give relevant, behavior-based feedback; and when the employees accept the feedback with humility and make the necessary behavioral adjustments. 

9) Throw a Party
Nothing motivates and builds a sense of community among a team like a party/celebration, which in turn boosts the self-motivation of the team members. When done correctly, a team celebration of accomplishments increases a sense of belonging and relatedness among the team members, and serves as a stepping stone to more accomplishments.

10) Build Interpersonal Trust
Interpersonal trust is the foundation for building a community/team that will go beyond the call of duty to give each other support and relevant behavioral feedback.  The seven C-words essential to building trust are: communication, caring, candor, consistency, commitment, consensus, and character. 

Communicating with your team members in a candid and caring way is necessary to establish interpersonal trust; and giving consistent and candid behavior-based feedback leads to beneficial change if the feedback recipient shows character and commitment to make appropriate behavioral adjustments.  If the feedback is not delivered well, the recipient with character and courage will communicate in a caring way how to make the feedback more useful.  Dialogue like this is key to building team consensus and sustaining interpersonal trust throughout a culture.


Lift & Access is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.