Kevin Ian Schmidt

How to Persuade Your Staff to Wear Personal Protective Equipment

Let’s be honest: wearing PPE isn’t always top of mind. But before throwing up our hands in frustration, let’s acknowledge a vital truth – people have reasons, sometimes complex ones, for their actions (or inaction).

This article isn’t about finger-pointing. It’s about unlocking the secrets of human behavior to persuade your staff to embrace PPE and, ultimately, work safely.

The key? Stepping into their shoes.

Before barking orders about mandatory regulations, ask yourself: “Why might I hesitate to wear PPE?” Perhaps it’s discomfort, inconvenience, or even a perceived lack of necessity. Identifying your own potential stumbling blocks helps you understand and anticipate those of others.

Think of it as leadership evolution. In today’s dynamic world, understanding human behavior is no longer optional, it’s essential. The ability to decode motivations, address concerns, and tailor your approach is the difference between compliance and genuine buy-in.

This article isn’t just about PPE; it’s about unlocking the full potential of your team. By investing in understanding their why, you empower them to choose safety, not just follow rules. So, let’s ditch the frustration and embrace the fascinating journey of human behavior. It’s the key to creating a safer, more engaged, and ultimately, more successful workplace for everyone.

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 Fundamental Principles of Persuasion

  1. Reciprocity – This principle is epitomized by the phrase “Gimme Five.” It revolves around the human inclination to anticipate and desire the return of favors, even in the form of simple gestures like handshakes. The concept is akin to the reasoning behind providing free samples at grocery stores. Human psychology is wired to expect reciprocal actions, creating a social dynamic reminiscent of a “scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” scenario.
  2. Commitment and Consistency – People tend to uphold promises when these commitments align with their self-perception. Even in situations where the other party fails to meet expectations, individuals are more likely to stay true to their word. This principle underscores the enduring power of honesty and the human inclination to adhere to consistent self-identities.
  3. Social Proof – The influence of the crowd is a powerful force. People often follow the path of “crowd think,” assuming that if a significant number of others are engaging in a particular behavior or belief, it must be valid. This principle reflects the human tendency to seek validation through the actions and choices of the larger group.
  4. Authority – Individuals tend to deviate from their normal behavior when figures of authority endorse certain actions. Even when those actions may be ethically questionable, the permission granted by authoritative figures can sway behavior. This principle illustrates the impact of influential individuals on shaping collective conduct.
  5. Liking – The principle of liking underscores the human inclination to be influenced by those we admire or find appealing. Whether it’s heeding advice or making purchasing decisions, endorsements by celebrities, movie stars, or pop idols carry substantial weight. This principle explains why diet plans become more appealing when associated with well-known personalities.
  6. Scarcity – The scarcity principle is based on the idea that limited availability enhances desirability. If a product or opportunity is perceived as scarce or exclusive, individuals are more likely to be motivated to acquire it. This principle highlights the psychological impact of perceived rarity on consumer behavior.

These six principles of persuasion are not confined to specific cultures or contexts; they hold universal relevance. An example often cited by Cialdini demonstrates how these principles operate subtly yet consistently in shaping human behavior.

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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