Safety culture thrives when companies embrace employees

October 4, 2012 By    

The greatest challenge in any work environment is to create a culture where self-esteem is tied to the safety process – for example, getting a plant manager to buy into the responsibilities of his job description to a point where he internalizes the obligation and places value upon it.

Easier said than done.

The heart of the challenge lies with getting employees to “own” the concept and then take action. The internalization of specific values must naturally compete with many issues of distraction. Workplace competition, production goals, supply issues, the weather, pay scale, benefits and the like qualify as distractions when they interfere with core safety values.

Webster’s defines the word “value” using words like “merit,” “usefulness,” “appreciation,” “excellence,” “benefit,” “appraise,” “esteem,” “importance” and “worthiness.” These synonyms represent forms of validation essential to facilitate actionable alternatives. Of course, the antonyms to the word “value” include “valuelessness,” “uselessness” and “cheapness.”

It would be hard for an employee to embrace core values of a company when he feels worthless, useless and cheap. We know this from studying the purpose of affirmative action in our society. The government is trying to level the playing field to set the stage for human validation and productive self-esteem. It is not the impact of such programs that we should learn from; it’s the degradation and lack of confidence that flourishes when no effort is made at all.

The 1960s’ civil rights activist chant “I am somebody” is actually a home remedy kit for self validation. Leadership understood the role lack of self-esteem plays in hindering healthy choices and discouraging personal growth. Application of this understanding within the work environment can be the first step toward the prioritization of values.

On a higher plane, the traffic is usually light; the air is clear; the view is spectacular; and issues of intellectualization flow freely. However, most of us live in the real world, where values are destroyed every day.

An old friend of mine once said, “The most important thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother.” Now there’s a value with substance. And yet, acts of infidelity threaten the institution of marriage every day.

We know that lack of self-esteem and feelings of uselessness are key rationalizations used when discarding core character values. Those same rationalizations interfere with the internalization and prioritization of the safety process in the workplace.

Let’s extend our understanding to embrace this possibility. We must assess each individual working environment in an attempt to uncover what distractions are hindering the internalization of our priorities. This is no lightweight task. One only has to look at the struggle and turmoil that followed the affirmative action movement to see that it would seem more convenient not to know. But those are valid rationalizations as we consider changing the world to make it a better place.

The bottom line in every situation usually ends up being a question of values. How do we instill core values in the face of all these distractions? It starts with empathy.

One of my favorite movies is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” When George Bailey stands up to Mr. Potter, he is fighting for his beliefs. He is fighting for the values of others. He is fighting for his dignity. Clearly tested by distractions, George comes to visualize the value he brings to this world.

The most important thing a corporation can do to improve its safety culture is to care about its employees. You show me an environment where the worker is highly valued, and I’ll show you a culture where safety is a high priority. With self worth will come understanding and the ability to internalize corporate values.

When safety is a corporate value, it establishes management control systems that cause implementation to occur. And it is the implementation of safety that achieves profitable results and protects the golden goose.

Jay Johnston (www.thesafetyleader.com) is an insurance agent, business consultant, safety coach, speaker and nationally recognized safety writer. Jay designs and implements cutting edge risk management programs for businesses that want to achieve profitable results. Jay can be reached at 952-935-5350 or via email at jay@thesafetyleader.com.

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