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Changing Work Practices: Feedback

Changing worker behavior in the shop is not an easy task! There may be some work practices that you'd like to improve and encourage in your workers, such as getting them to use the protective equipment that you provide for them. Our experience has shown that giving the workers personal positive feedback when they are doing what you want can be effective. Here are the methods, forms and tools we used, in case you might want to try this technique.

Making your checklist

You should first come up with a list of behaviors that you would like to encourage or achieve. Remember to write each one as what you want them to do, rather than what you want them not to do. So you should say "Paint in the booth" rather than "Don't paint outside the booth." The list should be rather short to start with.

You can use our checklist as a sample or starting point. Our list was designed to cover all the employees in a shop and we only used one section for each employee, depending upon what task he was doing when we observed. You might want to do this planning together with your employees to get their cooperation.

Who will observe?

You need someone to observe and give each worker feedback - it can be the manager, foreman, supervisor or a co-worker. The important thing is that it must be done positively, with encouragement and praise - no criticism or yelling!

Observe workers for a few minutes while they are doing one task.
Observe workers for a few minutes while they are doing one task.

How to do the observation

  1. The observer should first check with the worker to see if it's a good time to do the observation.
  2. Then stand back and watch for a few minutes what the worker is doing.
  3. Mark on the checklist which behaviors the worker is doing safely, or not, during that task.
  4. Then decide which behavior(s) to compliment the worker about - something(s) he was doing correctly/safely - and which one behavior to encourage him to do better.
  5. Now approach the worker and give him the feedback you decided upon - always trying to maintain a positive, encouraging attitude. [See example below for more detail.]
  6. Ask about any barriers to compliance - what would make it easier for the worker to do what you want him to do.
  7. Thank the worker for doing the observation.


Suppose you have been trying to get your workers to do most painting inside the booth to improve paint job quality. You also would like them to use the supplied air respirator that you purchased and which is now sitting on the shelf.

As John is going into the booth to paint, you let him know you'll be observing. If John is wearing the supplied air respirator and coveralls but no gloves, eye protection or head covering, you check off "safe" under "paint in the booth" and under "wear supplied air respirator" and under "wear coveralls", but check "concern" for "wear gloves" and "wear head covering" and "wear eye protection." Then decide to compliment him about using the booth and the SAR, but encourage him to wear gloves while painting. You won't mention the head covering or eye protection at this time. When you approach John, you should be enthusiastic about using the booth and SAR. Then mention that it might be a good idea to wear some gloves to keep the paints out of his body. Ask if there is anything you could do to make it easier for him to wear the gloves. Maybe the ones in the shop do not fit him well and another type might be more comfortable.

Negative feedback doesn't give good results.
Negative feedback doesn't give good results.

   Tips for giving Feedback:

  • thank worker for opportunity to conduct observation
  • start with positive feedback
  • describe benefit of the safe practices
  • make transition from safe to concern without using 'but' or other negating term
  • clearly pinpoint concern
  • describe risk of concern
  • suggest an alternative
  • ask about barriers to safe practices and listen to worker
  • avoid arguing and keep discussion short and concise
  • use 'I' instead of 'we' and talk about 'concerns' instead of 'rules'

How long should it take and how often should the observations be done?

For each worker, the observations should only take about 5 minutes each time, and they should be done regularly at whatever frequency you can manage. Ideally, doing them about once a week should improve work practices fairly quickly. But if you can't take that much time, do the observations less often - like once a month - and expect it to take a little more time to see improvement.

Encouraging the whole shop

You can use these observation and feedback techniques on one worker at a time or on the whole shop. In our intervention, we attempted to improve work practices in the whole shop. We observed all the workers in the shop, one at a time, giving each one feedback, and then collectively gave the whole shop feedback. We used group dynamics and incentives to encourage everyone in the shop to work on improvements.

Summary sheets

You can see our summary sheet where we add together the practices of all the workers under three general categories: respirators, gloves, and skin covering. We list each worker's name on the lines at the left. Then for each one, we write how many "safes" and how many "concerns" we marked in a respirator category, how many in a glove category and how many in a skin/coveralls category. So in the above example, John would be listed on line 1; one "safe" would be recorded for Respirators, 1 "safe" for skin and 1 "concern" for gloves. The next employee would be listed on the second line and scored, etc.

Next we sum the "safes" and "concerns" down the columns, for all employees. In the next row, we write the total number of observations for each category ("safes" + "concerns") and then divide the number of "safes" by the total observations for each category. Converting each one to percent (multiply by 100), we end up with a percentage of safe practice for each of the three categories.
Click here for filled in sample checklist summary sample.

Graphs are updated each week or month to show workers how the shop is doing.
Graphs are updated each week or month to show workers how the shop is doing.


For each of the 3 categories - respirators, gloves and skin covering - we make a graph showing how well the whole shop is doing, using the calculated percentages.

Your graphs should show each observation time along the horizontal (x) axis - e.g. week 1, week 2, week 3, etc. - and the percent along the vertical (y) axis. We use happy face /sad face stickers to make the percentage bars, depending upon whether they were doing better or worse.
Click here for sample graph.


We offer to provide an incentive, such as bagels or pizza, for improvement from one observation period to the next.

Please let us know!

If you decide to try this method to change work practices in your shop, we would really like to hear how it worked for you! [contact us]