Ensuring the safety and well-being of employees is more important than ever to attract and retain talent
For employers, there is no higher priority than protecting the safety of our workforce. And this is now truer than ever, as the pandemic has certainly forced many people to rethink their lifestyles and re-engage for the general well-being.
How safe do you feel at work? Do you feel confident that you will end your day as healthy as it was when you started? Do you have the impression that your employer is looking after your safety? Do you feel secure enough to be yourself and fully contribute around your colleagues and leaders? Unfortunately, many employees are probably unable to confidently answer yes to at least one of these questions.
A recent study by the Canadian Center for Societal Purposes (CCPC) revealed that more than 40 percent of employees are seriously considering quitting their jobs in 2021. For companies like Purolator that are hiring thousands of new ones, this drain of potential talent is quite disturbing. Labor shortages before the pandemic were tough – now those challenges are even more difficult. It is for this reason that companies must look beyond traditional factors to recruit and retain motivated employees. Going forward, the winners of the war for talent will be those who have a goal beyond the quarterly review, demonstrating genuine concern for the well-being and security of their workforce.
The COVID-19 pandemic reminds that companies must take ownership of the health of their employees
Investing in employee mental health benefits both businesses and their workers
Employers can benefit from this advice to develop and promote workplace values focused on safety.
Recognize that people cannot just ‘choose’ to be safe
The gold standard for managing safety is simply eliminating risk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the reason it was necessary to stay at home and avoid close contact with others. But for essential employers like Purolator, who deliver essential health care supplies and other materials across Canada, keeping employees at home is not an option. These employers have had to step up their game to keep people safe in a dangerous world. We have come to recognize that security is very complex. The true story of an incident is never simply that someone made a mistake or was negligent. Well-conducted investigations reveal that most incidents are caused by a variety of factors that all come together at the same time – complacency, fatigue, distraction, lack of training, medical issues, or misplaced reward systems that focus on productivity instead. that about security.
Building a culture of safety
A strong corporate culture promotes health and safety by paving the way for a work environment that promotes employee well-being. Where culture can be useful in attracting talent, it is absolutely essential in retaining those workers – thus protecting a company from the looming talent drain everyone is talking about lately.
When it comes to safety, employees really need to believe that their leaders and coworkers genuinely care about their overall well-being. Posters and policy documents are simply not enough – leaders must speak the word every day. Coaching conversations shouldn’t be about an employee’s productivity, but rather about the safety and effectiveness of their behaviors, and why. A good leader seeks to understand what led to the behavior and tackles the root causes. Is the employee well physically and mentally? This is the essence of a true “safety culture”.
Safety is just as important for the mind and the body
Effective leadership is the keystone of psychological safety, one of the fastest emerging pillars of a modern, healthy and safe work environment. Psychological safety is about feeling accepted and valued in a way where your opinions and contributions matter. Building a psychological safety net in the workplace requires ongoing efforts, especially on the part of managers, to invite openness, offer recognition, and provide an opportunity to challenge the status quo. Employees who feel excluded or anxious are much more likely to rush, become complacent, underperform, and have conflict at work.
People who are weak in psychological safety often lack the synergies that can arise from strong team dynamics, where dissent or playing devil’s advocate can ultimately lead to better decisions. They are also more likely to lose staff.
Unfortunately, only 26 percent of employees said they felt psychologically safe during the first year of the pandemic. And today, remote workers nervously watch employers roll out reintegration plans in the office. In a psychologically secure organization, employees will feel comfortable expressing their thoughts on a return-to-office scenario, describing their preferences for flexibility and details of a hybrid work scenario. This type of open dialogue will prevent managers from being surprised by an exodus of talent following the implementation of post-pandemic work plans.
For senior leaders looking to create a true culture of health and safety, this will require a shift in the safety discourse. Recognize that employees cannot be safe without a large and pervasive investment on the part of leaders – an investment that can be felt and approved by company staff every day. It will also require a real cultural shift away from seeing safety as a mere physical outcome versus a more holistic approach to employee well-being.
John Ferguson is the President and CEO of Purolator. He is the Leadership Lab columnist for July 2021.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their perspectives and advice on the world of work. Find all the stories of the Leadership Lab on tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines on how to contribute to the topic here.
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