“Were you impish? Or admirable?” – Probably not something you’d ask as an EHS manager to check in on safety procedures. Dwight Schrute absolutely would though if he worked in EHS.

If you watched The Office, you will most likely remember Dwight dressed up as Belsnickel for the holiday get-together at the Dunder Mifflin Scranton branch. He certainly wouldn’t be easy on anyone at an EHS Christmas party.

I grew up in Germany and I can confirm that Belsnickel is not some strange, made-up tradition. He is the grumpy companion of Saint Nicholas who arrives on the 5th/6th of December.

However, if you think Belsnickel is a questionable Christmas figure, you haven’t met Krampus yet, another Saint Nicholas companion.

Krampus is an even more terrifying Belsnickel version and has horns, sharp teeth, and looks like a furry demon. He is more common than Belsnickel and still does its rounds in Central Europe.

Let me introduce you to the two Continental Christmas figures who couldn’t be more different in their approach to rewarding good and bad behavior. We’ll also have a look at which one would have more success in EHS, and what techniques you can incorporate in your EHS management.

Who are Saint Nicholas and Krampus?

Each year on the eve of the 5th of December, two intriguing figures arrive at people’s homes in many Central European countries: Saint Nicholas and Krampus.

Saint Nicholas, also known as Nikolaus, looks like the traditional version of Santa Claus. He wears a long red coat trimmed with white fur, matching trousers, and black boots. He carries a large bag filled with gifts for children who behaved well throughout the year.

Krampus, however, is the complete opposite of the kind Nicholas. Steeped in Central European folklore, Krampus is the dark, evil counterpart who frightens little children.

Krampus also carries a bag – however, the bag has a slightly different purpose.

While Nicholas rewards good behavior with gifts, Krampus’ methods are far from gentle; he’s known to carry birch branches to hit those who’ve been naughty or, in some regions, to whisk them away in his sack. Have a look at Krampus yourself:

Where I’m from, Northern Germany, you luckily don’t have Krampus running around. We only celebrate Saint Nicholas for whom you have to clean your boots, leave them outside your door on the 5th of December, and then he fills them with mandarins and little presents.

So, which figure would have more success in EHS?

Scare Tactics and Punitive Measures (Krampus Approach)

Instead of positive incentives, Krampus relies on negative reinforcement, and if he was an EHS manager, he would use fear as a tool against unsafe behavior.

A classic example of scare tactics in EHS are posters showing injuries that can happen when ignoring safety measures. Other examples are:

  • Sharing real-life accounts of people who experienced accidents
  • Demonstrating dangerous situations in a controlled environment (e.g. showcasing improper use of a harness with a falling dummy)
  • Penalties for violating safety rules

It’s not unusual to see the Krampus approach in practice in EHS – some perceive it as quick and simple measures.

Fear might initially drive compliance, but it often creates an environment of anxiety that hinders near miss reporting instead of encouraging it.

Moreover, the “Name, Blame & Shame Game” focuses purely on the incident investigation and fixing the worker, but not the prevention and underlying issues.

While companies need to make sure that employees feel responsible and accountable, safety procedures should not make workers fear losing their jobs. Instead, EHS expert Wilson Bateman recommends techniques such as the H-FILES approach to improve incident investigations.

Now, let’s have a look at Saint Nicholas and how he would handle EHS.

Rewarding Safe Behavior (Saint Nicholas Approach)

The Saint Nicholas approach revolves around acknowledging and rewarding good behavior with gifts.

Translating this into EHS, it stands for positive reinforcement and incentives for safe behavior.

Acknowledging and rewarding safe practices through a safety incentive program can encourage employees to follow safety protocols. However, it can also lead to a cover-up culture where workers don’t report incidents to get the reward.

Therefore, it’s important to differentiate between behavior-based and rates-based incentives.

Rates-based incentives focus on rewarding good safety performance. For example, staff get a cash prize for staying incident-free for 365 days. However, this means that employees might not report an injury to risk the team’s performance and their reward.

A better approach are behavior-based incentives focusing on leading indicators. They reward employees for engaging in EHS management and reporting hazards and near misses. Here are three ideas for your organization that work well as incentives without risking under-reporting:

  • Prize draw for workers who observed safe behavior
  • Moral incentive – £1 goes to charity for every safety observation, training and event attendance
  • “Observer of the month” certificate for their commitment… perhaps on Teams?

Striking the Balance: Creating an Effective EHS Strategy

This Christmas, you can take inspiration from Continental Christmas traditions for your EHS management. By that, we certainly don’t mean to turn into a Dwight Schrute and ask workers if they’ve been “Admirable or impish”.

However, by comparing Saint Nicholas and Krampus to each other, we showed that both have their benefits and limitations. The crux lies in finding the right balance and techniques. Combining positive reinforcement and accountability without creating a blame culture creates the foundation for an effective EHS strategy.

You can shape a workplace culture built on “no blame, no fear, learn” by improving procedures such as reporting, incident investigation, and corrective actions.

Pro-Sapien’s EHS software can help you on this journey by making reporting easier for everyone and fostering a sense of accountability without using the Krampus approach. Instead, it has clear approval workflows and an action manager that lets you assign and track Corrective and Preventive Actions (CAPAs).

Discover more about the benefits of Pro-Sapien and how it helps you to build engagement:

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Author

  • Savannah Welzel

    Originally from Germany, Savannah joined the Pro-Sapien marketing department in 2023. She studied Media Management & Marketing and has a broad background of experience in the Communications departments for global manufacturers as well as over 3 years of working at a digital agency in Scotland. Savannah is researching and producing informative content that helps guide EHS professionals through the complex EHS software marketplace.

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