Rewarding Safety Success Across Different Global Cultures

Factory Workers
July 25, 2019

“I take things serious and you take ‘em light.”
~Paula Abdul – “Opposites Attract”

Our 2019 SPF conference series officially concluded with the last day of SPF EMEA on June 26. But the lessons, insights and best practices that were shared in Melbourne, Houston, Chicago and Paris will be applied in organizations around the world for many years.

In this post, I want to share one lesson that caught my attention and that you will find useful if your organization has workers spread in many countries around the world.

SPF Houston took place in April and featured a panel discussion moderated by my colleague James Jensen, with panelists from ExxonMobil, BP and Colonial Pipeline. It would probably take many blog posts to highlight all the valuable discussions, but one item stood out for me, among many.

At some point, the panel talked about near miss reporting as an effective way to identify and reduce safety and operational risks. The conversation then focused around rewarding employees to encourage near miss reporting. That’s when Hugo Ashkar, Global Projects Risk Manager at BP, made a great point.

Hugo told the audience to remember cultural differences when rewarding near miss reporting. This is a valuable lesson that can apply not only to near miss reporting, but every time any type of safety success is rewarded.

Hugo then proceeded to give a couple of great examples. First, an employee may be rewarded by having an opportunity to meet the CEO or a Senior VP one-on-one (either in a meeting or they can have lunch together). This may not sound like a big thing, but in large, global organizations with tens of thousands of employees, not everyone has a chance to meet directly one of the dozen or so top executives.

In some cultures, for example in North America, a meeting with a high-level executive is seen as a unique opportunity to directly express your ideas and opinions to someone very important. But in some other cultures, telling an employee that they’ll meet the CEO or a VP may make them ask themselves “Oh no! What did I do now? Am I in trouble?”.

Another example given by Hugo was used to explain the different attitudes towards individualism. Some cultures are more individualistic than others. Recognizing a specific worker or offering them a prize is perfectly normal in some cultures. But in other cultures that are less individualistic, it makes more sense to recognize the team that includes the worker, or to offer a prize to each team member.

Cultural differences also apply to the way safety successes are celebrated. Different cultures celebrate in different ways. What may come across as funny and creative in one country, may come across as immature in another.

In conclusion, when rewarding or celebrating a safety success, take a few minutes to check with local employees in the countries where you operate about what would or wouldn’t work. And if you want to learn more about cultural differences and how they impact a safety culture, check out our post on how to promote a global safety culture across local cultures.

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Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Content Thought Leader