28th April 2021
It’s no secret that arbitrary rules are the bane of everyone’s existence. When your rules and regulations aren’t frequently reviewed and challenged, you risk weakening your relationships between management and front-line staff.
We’ve been facilitating the interesting discussion of bettering health and safety globally, by challenging day-to-day activities and finding areas where we can make incremental improvement, each day, to create meaningful change in the long run.
A useful way to strengthen relationships between leaders and employees is to include all staff in semi-frequent discussions about these rules. These discussions need to have an emphasis on two-way communication and provide the space for staff to offer feedback about what works, while health and safety leaders can explain why particular things are necessary.
Including your staff in these discussions is a useful way to break down the barriers between H&S and other employees and create a two-way relationship. As you’re probably all too aware, the common perception of H&S errs towards negative, with many employees finding health and safety a headache caused by the endless paperwork that has to be filled out.
By including employees in decision-making
about these rules you achieve two things: you communicate that you value their input, and therefore strengthen trust in your working relationship. You also help achieve H&S transparency, explaining why rules might be in place, and clarifying the process behind regulations. After all, safety professionals are not actually trying to make people’s lives more difficult - they’re trying to save lives!
Creating that two-way communication also helps front-line employees develop a stronger sense of ownership with their company, with a greater hand in decision-making and understanding of the rules. Ownership plays a useful role in ensuring work stays meaningful - far less showing up and counting down the hours until you clock out.
To avoid these discussions becoming yet another meeting (read: boring), it’s critical that the communication is two-way, with input from everyone involved. The following three questions are prompts suggested by 1% Safer book contributors, that help to make safety collaborative, not just instructive.
1 . What’s the most annoying thing you’ve done in the ‘name of safety?
Encourage a self-reflective laugh. Find the pain points that are perpetuating the negative reputation of health and safety in the workplace.
Work out what processes employees find particularly ridiculous or unhelpful. Their perspectives may surprise you.
Dr. Drew Rae, Senior Lecturer at Griffith University, suggests once you’ve asked your employees this question, to actively look for evidence that this rule or practice makes work safer. If you can’t find any evidence of its use, it’s time to get rid of it.
Some workers share horror stories about extreme work rules: having to clock out before they have a non-work-related conversation with a fellow employee or banning all social media in the workplace at all times. These kinds of rules tend to stifle employees and send the message that they’re untrustworthy.
- 2. What proposed changes would you make to this system?
Rob Richardson, Area Supply Chain Director for Heineken in Europe, suggests asking if anyone has any suggestions for changes, ask them what they would do if put in charge of the system. He notes how this encourages a more thoughtful discussion and considered response.
Employees are also put in the hypothetical leadership seat, giving them more ownership of the situation. Instead of having to force employees to conform to existing rules, you can collectively question the existing rules and listen to what they have to share.
Sit your employees down in small groups and have a brainstorming session where they’re in the driver’s seat. Perhaps they might suggest a different lunchtime to fit in certain jobs that need to be completed in the morning, or maybe they need somewhere to let off some steam (at ecoPortal, our pool table works wonders). Listen, ask questions and get the ball rolling.
- 3. What makes you feel unsafe?
Sometimes, the most simple and direct question can guide your processes the best. Asking employees what makes them feel unsafe sheds light on any areas that may have been overlooked in safety, or areas that need better prioritisation.
Perhaps employees feel safe in some places because the training was inadequate. There might be malfunctioning equipment H&S managers aren’t aware of or room layouts that are cause for concern.
Curating thought-provoking conversations helps to strengthen relationships between safety leaders and employees. Ensuring that employees guide the nature of safety in the workplace creates greater autonomy over their work - and minimises any perceived patronisation.
The frequency of the discussion is at your discretion - you know your workplace the best. Safety needs to have company-wide buy-in, and for that to really happen, requires company-wide input. Two-way communication, where leaders sit down to really listen to front-line employees, is a critical first step. Understanding how rules are perceived and how their day-to-day work is perceived (safe or unsafe) helps workers feel heard, and in return, your health and safety becomes transparent.
After all, safety isn’t about rules and regulations. It’s making sure people make it home to their families and feel supported in their workplace.