The supervisor of a Waste Collection Service noticed that most waste collectors across the region didn’t wear gloves. Instead, many of them carried them around in their pockets, throwing them away at the end of the day. In the past the management team had issued instructions laced with threats of disciplinary action for those people spotted not wearing gloves, which sometimes worked for a week or two, but their behaviour eventually reverted back.
The supervisor decided to try something different and asked one of the collection teams to come into the office for a bacon sandwich before they started their shift one morning. He asked them why it was they didn’t wear gloves and instead carried them around, throwing them into the back of the truck with the rest of the waste at the end of the shift. The waste collectors explained that the gloves they were issued with were poor quality, often tearing easily. They also explained how they made their hands sweat, which often led to skin complaints. The Supervisor thanked them for their information and promised to look into it.
A week later, he asked the same team to come into the office again at the start of the shift, where he had laid out a variety of sample gloves from different suppliers. He asked them each to take a selection away and try a different pair each day, coming back with a preference the following week. They chose a glove that was slightly more expensive but nothing that would break the bank. So he said he would do them a deal. If they wore their gloves and used the same pair for their 4-day shift rotation, only exchanging them if they were damaged, then he would commit to buying the superior gloves. Were they up for it? ‘’Absolutely” was their resounding reply, because what did they have to lose?
A month later and the waste collectors in this team were wearing their gloves every day. Other teams across the region heard about this and wanted to get access to the superior gloves, so he did the same deal with them, gradually rolling this out across the whole workforce. Even though the gloves were more expensive, they were using less gloves overall so he actually made an annual budget saving of over £60,000 across the region.
By changing his approach from telling to asking, removing the barriers in the way of them doing the desirable behaviour and also giving them the power of choice, he got the waste collectors to change their behaviour because they wanted to, not because they had to.