Now more than ever before, businesses are taking a hard look at how to retain employees. It’s important to keep them engaged in health and safety on the job. Culture is a key element in that effort. How does company culture and engagement reduce injuries and create safer workplaces?
On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we sit down with Victoria Dew. She is the founder and CEO of Dewpoint Communications. Her firm focuses on helping people-powered businesses communicate better with their employees every day. Dew has more than fifteen years of experience in internal communications and engagement.
First, we’ll talk about why company safety depends on workplace culture and engagement. Then, we’ll discuss how employers can build positive workplace culture. Finally, we’ll share how employers can start improving culture, engagement and communication today.
Listen to this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
Company safety depends on workplace culture and engagement
In Dew’s experience, countless coroners’ reports point to one common element in every workplace incident: split-second decisions. Employees often have very little time to act in a hazardous situation. Further, their actions are sometimes the difference between life and death. Everything that employees are exposed to in the workplace affects how they act under pressure. For example:
- Conversations with coworkers
- Safety meetings
- Interactions with their managers
All of those interactions make up a company culture. “It’s everything that an employee thinks, feels, touches, perceives, believes about the place where they work,” Dew explained. “That also speaks to all of the behaviors that we recognize as part of our culture, that we tolerate.” This includes which behaviors are reprimanded and which ones slide under the radar.
It may seem like employees don’t pay attention to these things. But that simply isn’t true. “People do notice, and all of that comes together to create the way that someone in that one moment that can make all the difference, make that decision about what to do.”
Do you need to improve your workplace culture?
Some employers think that a great company culture and engaged employees would be nice to have, but isn’t a requirement. However, Dew finds that it’s actually a business decision. Workplace culture directly impacts a business’s ability to function. “I think that culture can feel overwhelming because it can feel a little bit vague and intangible,” she shared. There are a few questions employers can ask themselves to determine where their workplace culture may need improvements:
- Where are you experiencing people-related challenges? For example, around recruitment or retention. Are you struggling with a particular client or employee?
- Where are these challenges resulting in less-than-ideal outcomes? Has work slowed down in certain areas? Does any particular team have a hard time working together?
- Where would you like to see change? Start with the impact on the business. Identify the improvements you want to see.
Building the workplace culture employees need
“We have to create this whole ecosystem in this whole world of work that supports people in not only doing a great, great, great job, but in staying safe.” One of the most impactful areas of research Dew references is the 2012 London Olympics bill. What made those Olympic games unique? During all of the construction projects that came before it, zero fatalities were recorded. How did they manage it?
“What they found was when they interviewed people about the culture, there were some words that came up again and again and again,” Dew shared. “They were words like respectful, trusting, empowering, fair, clear communication, the ability to challenge authority, ask questions and collaborative.” She points out that these are the qualities that make a positive company culture. They form a place where employees can ask questions and be themselves.
Create open communication
Telling employees information they need to know is important. However, it isn’t communication. There is a difference between talking at employees, and talking to them. Do your employees understand what you are sharing? Further, do they feel like they can and should take action on it?
Open communication is a key part of great workplace culture. What does that look like? Respect employees. Treat them fairly. Make sure that employees know they can ask questions, whether it’s during meetings or one-on-one with their manager.
Model safety behaviors
Opening the door to conversation can often close the door on potential incidents. Some employees, especially new hires, are hesitant to admit they don’t understand something. Model safety behaviors and practice them with employees together. Most importantly, provide guidance. This helps employees physically remember what steps to follow. In addition, it helps them understand why those steps are important. Those interactions are more likely to stay with employees long-term.
The employee perspective is very valuable when trying to improve a workplace culture. An outside partner can help employers identify culture issues. “When you’re first in an organization, you can perceive the culture for the first six months,” she said. “But after six months in a role, actually, culture becomes a little bit invisible to you.”
Surveys can be part of a good evaluation. However, they aren’t everything. Dew helps employers by listening, and running programs that encourage employees to speak freely. For instance, focus groups, roundtables or panels where employees can ask anything. She recommends focusing in on management-level employees. “Those people who are leading teams will have a much more direct sense of what’s happening on the ground, and of what’s going on with their people and their teams,” she suggests. “And that can be really just a treasure trove of information.”
3 ways employers can start improving workplace culture today
It can be tempting to push workplace culture to one side. Conversations take time and energy. But employers shouldn’t underestimate their impact.
“One of the things that we have really learned is that a ‘business as usual’ approach of just getting on with it and pushing through it doesn’t work anymore,” Dew shared. “It doesn’t really matter that much what the business is, whether it’s front line or people at a desk. This need to stop and actually spend time and have conversations with people and to bring a more human approach to the way we work is better for every business.” Get started today by:
- Identifying your culture carriers. These are employees that demonstrate company values and behaviors well. Find your culture carriers at the management and leadership levels. They can start to affect change and talk to their direct reports right away.
- Not overlooking the importance of feedback. Employees like to have their opinions valued. Part of engagement is asking people questions, but also listening to what they have to say. This is how solutions are developed.
- Hold a ‘two-way’ conversation. Arrange time for a leader and employee to meet one-on-one. Take turns asking questions. This allows both leadership and employees to not only offer feedback, but to listen to different perspectives and share information.
Employees have a huge impact on the bottom line of a company. And a great workplace culture doesn’t just keep employees safe. They also do a better job, stay with the business longer and recommend it to others. Creating a great workplace culture is a decision employers have to make.
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