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4 Key Takeaways From Landmark Report on Happiness and Safety

Confident female warehouse worker

You may have missed a recent safety report when it first came out. Titled Why Happiness is the Secret Ingredient of Workplace Safety, it might strike you as a counterintuitive subject to examine. After all, how strong could the link between safety and happiness actually be?

As it turns out, the report, authored by New York Times best-selling author Rodd Wagner, has some ground-breaking insights. In fact, it’s one of the most interesting new pieces of research by human factors management thought leaders.

The report is incredibly detailed, and it outlines six different ways in which happiness and safety intersect. And while it’s impossible to recap the entire thing here, several crucial pieces of information deserve to be highlighted. To that end, here are four key takeaways from this landmark report on happiness and safety.

Happiness plays a vital role in workplace safety

The biggest takeaway is also the simplest one: happiness has a direct impact on workplace safety. Full stop. Happy workers are safer workers, and unhappy workers are more prone to potentially injury-causing incidents. This is so much the case that the report itself trumpets happiness as “the secret ingredient to workplace safety.”

Any seasoned occupational health and safety expert will tell you that there’s no silver bullet when it comes to improving safety outcomes. And that’s absolutely true—injury rates and employee actions are the results of a complex interplay of numerous factors.

But as this report points out, happiness is a massive—and massively underappreciated—component of employee safety. And if you take safety seriously, then you should also give serious consideration to happiness.

There’s a direct link between sleep and happiness

There are several key determinants of how happy workers are. One of the more surprising ones is sleep. It’s well-known that fatigue is a major contributor to incidents, and workers who get less than six hours of sleep a night have three times the risk of an incident. And as Wagner’s research outlines, fatigue also affects how happy employees are. As a result, it’s fair to think of fatigue as having double the impact on workplace safety.

This is actually good news, in a roundabout way. Fatigue is already considered one of the more notable human factors, given the degree to which it influences employee safety. This means that dealing with fatigue issues in the workplace lets you kill two birds with one stone—by directly reducing the risk of an injury by mitigating a human factor, and further strengthening safety outcomes by increasing happiness. So when it comes to managing human factors, make sure your approach includes proven ways to deal with fatigue.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to happiness

Happiness may be a common dominator in safety, but every person is made happier (or less happy) by different things. For some, happiness is a matter of feeling like work is distributed evenly. Other workers want their opinions to be taken seriously by management.

You can’t just pull a big lever labeled “Happiness” and expect the entire workforce to suddenly be more engaged. Rather, you know to understand employees’ individual motivations, beliefs, and goals, and then treat them accordingly. Instead of one giant level, think of it as a giant control panel filled with dials and knobs, with each one corresponding to an individual worker’s personality and preferences.

One of the best ways to zero in on each worker’s unique needs is to leverage their supervisors. Frontline leaders and shift supervisors have a direct connection with employees and are ideally suited to use their personal knowledge of each worker to improve safety performance. Simply, no one knows a worker quite like their supervisor, and that supervisor is also ideally positioned to make that worker happier.

Add happiness to the list of human factors in safety

Given the impact that happiness has on workplace safety, forward-thinking safety professionals should consider adding happiness to the list of human factors they manage as part of their SMS. As Wagner’s research makes clear, happiness plays a vital role in determining safety outcomes in the workplace, and it should be managed accordingly.

There is an entire constellation of human factors to be aware of—from rushing and fatigue to uncertainty and overconfidence—and taking steps to improve happiness doesn’t mitigate the need to manage other human factors.

But as Wagner convincingly argues, happiness is a critical component of workplace safety. And moving the dial on happiness may make it easier to get traction with other human factors too, by helping secure worker buy-in and making employees feel empowered to build their personal safety skills.

The findings in the report on safety and happiness are notable, and whether you’ve read the report or listened to the podcast version on safety and happiness, it’s worth serious attention. It just might give you the insight and information you need to take the next step in reducing workplace incidents—and what could make you happier than that?

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