Kevin Ian Schmidt

How to Persuade Your Staff to Wear Personal Protective Equipment

Let’s face it, people don’t do what they’re supposed to do a lot of the time and there are a variety of reasons. This article shows a practical way of persuading your staff to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). To understand the behavior or lack of behavior by other people it is best to first understand yourself. You might say to yourself but why do I need to do this because the rules are clear, in certain areas and in carrying out certain tasks PPE is mandatory, no argument. Understanding your own behavior is a step to understanding other peoples’ behavior. Nowadays, it is a very important aspect of management and leadership. The need to understand human behavior has increased many fold over the last 10 years. It is an area that all people in leadership roles should learn about.

If you have a situation where staff members are not wearing PPE at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, the first stage is to ask them why they are not wearing it. Normally, the range of responses will include, “It’s too uncomfortable.” “I have been doing it this way for 20 years and never hurt myself.” “I can’t see the point of it.” “I forgot.” And so on. Without a doubt, human nature being what it is, the easy way or the comfortable way will always be the first choice before the slightly harder way or the less comfortable way.

One of the ways to increase the use of PPE is to talk to your team about the consequences of not wearing it. For example, ask them if it is fair and reasonable to wear ear protection in noisy areas. You may get the response, “I am already deaf so it won’t make any difference.” Point out at this stage that the newer people will mimic behavior so they will copy a bad example. Ask them if they had their time again would they like their hearing returned.

On the other hand, the majority of people will readily agree that it’s fair and reasonable to wear ear protection in noisy areas. You then have to ask the question, “What will be the consequences of not wearing ear protection?” This way, it’s possible to set in place a consequence for that unsafe behavior. Gradually you can go through each item of PPE during your safety talks and achieve two objectives, firstly, get agreement that wearing PPE is fair and reasonable and, secondly, get agreement of the consequences that should occur if people don’t wear it.

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That may be necessary to follow this method several times before an impact is made. Gradually, you will find that the levels of compliance will rise until the majority of people will raise the situation with the minority who were not wearing their protective equipment.


The 6 Key Principles of Persuasion

    1. Reciprocity –Gimme Five” the concept is we want and expect the return of favors, even simple handshakes. That’s why you get all those free samples at grocery stores. We hold a reasonable expectation of gifts and good deeds in return for our attention; a scratch my back sort of thing!
    1. Commitment and Consistency – You are more likely to keep a promise when it is consistent with the way you see yourself, even when the other side fails to meet expectations. Honesty still tends to prevail.
    1. Social Proof – You Tweet because your friends Tweet. We are likely to follow the path of “crowd think”, believing so many Frenchmen can’t be wrong!
    1. Authority – The people we look up to, give us permission to act out differently than normal; even when it’s wrong. That’s why good boys may do bad things.
    1. Liking – We are more likely to follow the advice or purchase the brand endorsed by a famous movie star or pop idol. Diet plans wouldn’t be as popular just showing common folks losing weight!
  1. Scarcity – If you didn’t have to stand-in line to get the latest tech gadget, you wouldn’t be as likely to buy one.

These six principles of persuasion are universal. Here’s an example Cialdini uses to show how human behavior is both subtle yet mechanical.

An Example of Persuasive Superpowers

The experiment by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer, states that it is commonly believed when asked a simple favor, we are more likely to oblige if the request is accompanied by a plausible reason. It goes something like this:

STAGE 1. Langer first provides a base test by asking a ‘small favor’ of a group of people in line at… Let’s say a coffee shop, “Excuse me, I need to get my caffeine fix. May I go ahead in the line, because I’m in a hurry?” The effectiveness of this request-plus-reason was nearly total: Ninety-four percent of those asked allowed her to skip to the front of the line.

STAGE 2. Compare this success rate to the results when she made the request-only, “Excuse me, I have to get my caffeine fix. May I go ahead in the line?” Under those conditions, only 60 percent complied. It would infer that the difference in results was due to the additional information offered, “because I’m in a hurry” as in the stage one.

STAGE 3. But a third request tried by Langer demonstrated this was not the case. It seems it was not the series of words that made the difference, but solely the first word, because“. Langer’s third attempt used the word “because”, but added no new information or reason for the request. She merely restated the obvious, “Excuse me, I need to get my caffeine fix, may I go ahead of you, because I need my caffeine fix.” The result was once again nearly all (93 percent) allowed her to cut in line even though there was no justifiable reason given.

When you make a request of someone else, regardless of the reason, humans are programmed to respond positively to the stimulus word “because”. Knowing this, there would be no reason not to use this.

Ask yourself, if you stated in front of all your work mates that you thought that wearing PPE because it was fair and reasonable, what would be the chances of you complying with that statement? I would suggest that it would be very high. It is called a psychological contract and is very effective.

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