Engaged Employees are Safer Employees

Team huddling with hands in the middle There is a direct correlation between the level of employee engagement and overall safety performance. Improving employee engagement might just improve workplace safety. Sometimes we have to look outside safety in order to improve it. Engaged employees are constantly volunteering for safety tasks, discussing and teaching new safety topics, and completing their safety training. They are frequently going above and beyond. They accept and embrace changes and care for the safety of their coworkers.

Conversely, disengaged workers are basically sleepwalking through the workday. They are present but put no energy or passion into the work. Employees who are actively disengaged aren't just unhappy at work, they're busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these employees undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish. 

According to Gallup only 34% of today's workforce is “fully engaged.” Although that seems like a pretty low number, it is actually an all-time high. Still, 13% of employees are “actively disengaged.” Disengaged employees cost organizations up to $550 billion annually, according to HRDIVE. Engaged employees are more productive, profitable, safer, create stronger customer relationships, and demonstrate stronger commitment to employers for longer time periods.

Employee engagement is about unlocking the employee’s potential in order to improve performance in all areas including workplace safety. It's about capturing that discretionary effort. It's the "above and beyond" effort the employee could give if they wanted to. Mark C. Crowley, author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership for the 21st Century, sums it up this way. Imagine your team of 10 people in a row boat trying to navigate rough waters. Using today’s statistics, you would have three people rowing like crazy (engaged), five looking at the scenery (disengaged), and two trying to sink the boat (actively disengaged)!  Clearly this boat just isn’t going to get anywhere very fast and it’s likely that those three people rowing will either become disengaged through frustration or be injured on the job. To be successful we need all 10 employees rowing in the same direction.

Creating a safe work environment requires employee engagement from the frontline worker to the boardroom. Unfortunately, frontline employees are often not engaged in the safety effort, sometimes even resistant to it. There are many reasons for this lack of engagement, but a big contributor is people’s experience around safety. When asked, many frontline workers will tell you that their experience is largely negative. When the only safety message they hear is one that comes after an injury or when they violated a safety policy the overall safety program is given a negative connotation. When they do things safely there is often no reward for it, or even any recognition. With this type of negative experience around safety, it's no wonder the frontline employees don't want to be more engaged.

One of the simplest things you can do to improve employee engagement and safety performance is to use more positive reinforcement. When people are recognized for the things they do well in safety, they’re more likely to want to participate fully in the safety program. This may sound like an obvious solution but is often missing in today’s business world.

Positive reinforcement is an extremely powerful tool in managing employee performance. Recognition of a job well done will lead to more of the same. Safety has to be managed just like all other aspects of business, and “catching someone doing something right” is an important piece of puzzle.

OSHA generally frowns on safety incentive programs that could discourage injury reporting. For example, paying employees a bonus when there are no injuries might result in covering up injuries and the failure to report unsafe conditions. However, implementing an incentive system that rewards positive actions taken to prevent injuries can be very successful. Reporting a near-miss, taking initiative to clean up a spill, or volunteering to provide safety training are examples of positive actions that could be rewarded. The reward doesn’t have to be monetary, it’s the recognition of a job well done that carries the real meaning.

Safety performance is not only a moral obligation for organizations, it is a financial and reputational requirement. Businesses simply cannot afford to lose valuable employees through workplace injuries. It is the right thing to do from all perspectives and a fully engaged workforce is much more likely to perform safely. This will not only allow them to return home every day in the same condition they came to work, but it will make them more productive as well. Truly a win-win situation.

For more information on workplace safety programs check out our resources under the Workplace Safety tab at MEMIC.com including previous Safety Net posts, the Safety Experts Podcast, the Video Lending Library, and the Safety Academy Online.