We need to change, but how do we engage our employees in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)? This question is often asked by management, yet it is not simple to answer, as there are many variables that need to be addressed. Before anyone implements an employee engagement strategy, they need to recognize there are various aspects to consider. These aspects include:
Nationality of employees
Social environment at work
Language of the workforce
Educational levels of employees
Employee engagement is not an exact science and there is no magic solution. Traditionally, employee engagement has been focused on by Human Resources (HR) departments, working on the concept of engaging people towards a productive culture of success. In some cases, focusing purely on ensuring staff retention or personal development, fails to address the important issue of OHS or loss prevention, indicating a flaw in the process.
The basic structure of employee engagement is based on company values. These values determine the why, how and what is acceptable within an organization. If OHS is neglected when establishing these values, employees will not believe or trust what top management is saying or doing.
Occupational health and safety has to be incorporated into an organizations overall corporate engagement strategy. If not, OHS will be seen as a silo management process with no relationship to the overall values of the company.
Some Initial Ideas
Here are a few ideas you can use for inspiration when coming up with your employee engagement programme to ensure that you address OHS at the same time.
Have Departments Create Their Own Set of OHS Values
Give employees the opportunity to come up with their own set of values or rules. Departments can create a strong team spirit, based on 2-3 commonly agreed upon values or OHS rules that contribute to the overall performance of the team. People like to feel empowered to make their own decisions, and are more likely to see the benefits of the rules or values that have been put in place.
Mentors / Guides for New Employees
We know that one of the critical times for people to settle into an organization is in the first 1 to 3 months of initial employment. An important part of the on-boarding process is feeling comfortable and confident in knowing what is expected, and, most importantly, the OHS processes to follow. Having someone guide new starters alleviates problems and contributes to a successful on-boarding of new staff, speeding up the critical settling in period and acceptance of OHS rules. Remember, a mentor or guide can be anyone in a team, as long as they actually support a new starter. It is one way to give empowerment and responsibility to someone, and at the same time they get respect from fellow work colleagues, creating engagement satisfaction.
Ensure That Staff Have the Equipment and Resources to Do Their Job
One of the biggest gripes of employees is not having the right safety equipment or resources to do their jobs. If you give people the items they require, they are more likely to work safely and efficiently. If you don’t give the right equipment or resources, expect poor standards and poor employee engagement. Have employees participate in the testing and selection of personal protective equipment, that way they will be more likely to accept it.
There is always an opportunity to learn from others, and encouraging people to be innovative is a win-win scenario for everyone. You will be surprised how many great ideas are floating around the office or on a worksite. Why not establish a reward scheme for OHS ideas that benefit the organization by inspiring people to think outside the box and come up with new ways to improve day-to-day business.
Set up a Workplace Innovation Workshop and have employees participate in a brain storming session. This creates two engagements streams, open communication and encouragement to contribute to improving work conditions. You will be surprised how useful these types of events can be to an organization.
Recognize and Openly Celebrate Achievements
It is important that we acknowledge what people have accomplished at work and how it has contributed to the success of the business. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what position you hold in a company, we all need to hear the 2 most important words to inspire us: THANK YOU. By publicly recognizing people’s achievements or performance we can give a real boost of energy to an individual or a team of people. It’s all about creating synergy and engaging people on a personal level.
My one tip is to try not to use incident statistics as a celebration, as it is often seen as negative by employees. If you don’t hit an incident rate target, everyone feels they have failed and become instantly demoralized.
I could add many other ideas to the above, but all I want to do is make people think about how they should approach employee engagement and OHS. It’s important that organization brainstorms ideas and take input from employees. It is only with a transparent and open employee engagement strategy that true benefits and progress can be made. It’s important that you try and adapt new and innovative ideas, until you find the perfect fit for your organization.
Having used all of the above ideas with great success, I know and appreciate what can be achieved. However, what works for one organization might not work for another, so always do your homework and plan carefully. Otherwise your engagement strategy might easily turn out to be disengagement.