Relieve workplace stress with a little fun

April 17, 2013 By    

During end-of-winter months, employee fatigue is a major concern for state executives, safety directors and human resources professionals alike.

Work stress during a busy season may facilitate fatigue. Fatigue can contribute to industrial accidents and injuries, impact business productivity, contribute to errors and create liability risks.

Sometimes the separation between our work lives and personal lives can become blurred, and both can get out of focus.

For example, a driver or serviceperson’s ears may still be ringing from the scolding he received at home for not attending a child’s piano recital during a heavy delivery schedule. Such conflicts often create stress.

When combined with other factors, such as bad weather conditions, inadequate sleep, improper diet, lack of exercise and the pressure to achieve budgeted results, fatigue may contribute to an accident or unsafe outcome.

Executives are not excluded from the impact and concern over fatigue. Fatigue can create unhealthy communications with employees, and failure to follow company procedures can become a human resources nightmare. Such unsafe communications can be costly.

OK, so we are all under stress. What can we do about it?

First, we have to learn to have fun and lighten up. That doesn’t mean we throw the rulebook out the window. It just means we have to learn to find humor in our lives, and that will allow us to recognize the problem, let off steam and relieve the pressure.

I’m not sure if MBA programs have a Fun Factor course in their curriculum, but maybe they should. Professor Chuckles D. Clown might lecture on the merits of a smile during stressful times and its impact on business performance.

One of my safety mentors, Norm Bushey, taught me to laugh at life and make safety fun. We were under a great deal of liability pressure in the early 1990s. Fatigue and stress raised their ugly heads often.

Through humor and perseverance, we made safety a fun process for all employees in our company. I bought Norm a judge’s wig for our mock trial, and he would waltz into the sea of employees, shaking his finger and saying, “Here come de judge.”

We designed a game of Family Feud with employee teams and prizes. There is even a rumor I may have told an off-color joke or two in the name of promoting safety.

Unfortunately, while employee stress and fatigue are a growing problem, very few management and human resources professionals are aware that workforce management tools exist to monitor and reduce employee fatigue. Organizations driven to work lean may be too busy fighting alligators to remember they are there to safely drain the swamp.

Now is the time for leadership to do some research about the consequences of stress and fatigue, and the potential negative impact on the bottom line. Pay attention to near misses or mistakes that could have been related to fatigue.

I am also a big believer in catching employees doing something right and praising them for it. At first blush, you may say, “That is their job. Why should I recognize mediocrity?”
I encourage you to recognize them as a reward for compliance. Just a simple “nice job” or “thank you” can go a long way to raising employee spirits and helping them appreciate their stake in the safety process.

Likewise, when you catch employees making a mistake, clear communication and reinforcement of expected behavior is much better than any form of public embarrassment, threats or black marks in their personnel records.

Life is too short for unnecessary, overbearing penalties or punitive outcomes.

At your next safety or management meeting, I recommend that you discuss the problems of safety fatigue and design solutions that put a little fun back into the compliance-commitment process.

It’s the safety way.

Jay Johnston (www.thesafetyleader.com) is an independent insurance agent, business consultant and safety leadership coach and speaker. He designs and implements risk management programs. Jay can be reached at 952-935-5350 or by emailing jay@thesafetyleader.com.

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