Why engaging employees on health and safety requires a two-way conversation…
Over the course of a fair few years, we’ve helped many organisations to improve their health and safety performance through the use of engaging internal communications. And the way we have done so has changed and evolved over time.
While it may be a glaringly obvious point we are about to make, many organisations are still guilty of not recognising and following it, particularly so when it comes to engaging employees on health and safety. Ready for it? Here it comes…
“You do not achieve employee engagement by just simply speaking AT people”.
This was always the traditional way of trying to ‘engage’ employees on health and safety. For too long many have followed this ‘command and control’ approach. It is out-dated, and simply does not work. Employees become engaged when they are part of the conversation, helping to shape the conversation and when they see and experience the outcomes of the conversation – outcomes that will benefit both their development and the development of the organisation they are working for.
So, when it comes to health and safety, what does engage employees? Glad you asked; Effective leadership, employee involvement, and company programmes and initiatives, which when combined, will ultimately lead to a change in culture. A change in culture is very much what it is all about.
We’ll now run through each of these points, keeping it top-line and brief mind you.
Leaders are and always will be a key ingredient for engaging employees on health & safety. From the beginning leaders will be responsible for reaching out to the employees to educate and identify the areas of importance and concern. From leaders will also come any necessary resources, the direction that is to be followed, and they’ll need to make change happen through action.
Leaders have to be visible, communicate effectively, provide support and importantly for health and safety programmes – encourage participation.
Encouraging participation is key, as improving health and safety requires a two-way conversation – between leaders and employees. If you think about it, there is no way a leader, without the support of employees, can create a strong health and safety culture. As ultimately it’s employees who need to bring about the change to working safely.
As we mentioned above, employees do need direction and continued support from leadership, but improving health and safety will only happen if employees then follow procedures, report any problems/incidents and change their behaviour. The only way this will happen is if they feel involved in the process.
Employees need to be aware of their importance in improving health and safety, and how they need to enter into a partnership with leadership/management. No longer are employees dependent on leadership when it comes to health and safety. Employees need to be their own leaders, by reporting any incidents and submitting any recommendations for improvement. Both parties are then in on it together in moving things forward in the best way, with leadership using their position to actually make things happen.
Following this inclusive and involved approach will lead to engaged employees, and is a far more effective way of improving health and safety than by just telling employees what they need to do.
Programmes and initiatives
To create a health and safety partnership an organisation will need to use programmes and initiatives and communicate the need and benefits of them in order for leaders and employees to adopt them. Things such as:
– Leadership toolkits and resources.
– Including health and safety within employees personal development plan, where completion of tasks/activities can result in financial rewards.
– Linked to the above point, a recognition and reward scheme for health and safety behaviour.
– Training courses and guides – for both parties.
– Possible use of a competition that aims to encourage workers to report incidents, near misses or improvements – Using gamification for engagement.
– Holding health and safety days. These can act as great focal points, offering undiluted communications and where everyone across an organisation is brought together at one time to concentrate on a specific topic.
The goal of all internal communications should be to achieve employee engagement in order to create a desirable culture.
When it comes to health and safety, the culture an organisation should be looking to create is one that many have previously labelled as a ‘no-blame culture’. Again this is far removed from the ‘command and control’ approach, where blame would certainly have been involved. But blame serves no real purpose, as if it exists it often stops people from reporting incidents and getting involved in the conversation on health and safety. When blame is taken out of the equation, leaders and employees can have a more transparent and honest conversation that will lead to greater engagement and change.
With everyone involved and participating in health and safety – and clear on the reasons why – a sort of peer pressure to behave safely will surface. When it does, you’ll know the effort and often difficulty in creating a shared approach to health and safety has worked and was worth it.
Do please get in touch if you’d like to talk to us further on how we could use our internal communication skills to help improve health and safety in your organisation.
Until next time…