Employee engagement is an evergreen issue in business circles. It’s a constant topic of presentations at conferences, countless chapters in management books discuss it, and senior and frontline leaders in every industry are preoccupied with how to engage their teams.
A new article on happiness and safety by New York Times bestselling author Rodd Wagner suggests that safety professionals should join their management colleagues in paying attention to employee engagement.
As Wagner says, “the data show less engaged people are, in fact, worse at self-preservation. Safety is not only positively correlated with engagement, it is one of the strongest connections between attitude and outcome.”
The article goes on to argue that engagement is such a key component of workplace outcomes that it should be considered the secret ingredient of safety. And in fact, what everyone has for decades been calling engagement may be a more fundamental concept: happiness.
At first glance, it may seem like a bit of a stretch to so closely link injuries and employee happiness—Wagner himself admits that it can seem like a counterintuitive proposition—but there’s a surprising volume of research that shows a strong overlap between happiness/engagement and incidents. And when you dig a little deeper, it makes sense. Wagner argues that:
The reason happiness and engagement correlate so highly is because they are corresponding sides of a solid social contract. The enterprise wants engagement (evidenced by enthusiasm for the job, teamwork, dedication to the enterprise mission, customer focus, care for company resources, for example); the employee wants happiness (in the form of salary and bonuses, health care, adequate time off, credentials, and personalized attention, among other benefits).
Once we reach the conclusion that happiness is a viable EHS metric—and the article makes the persuasive case that it is—the big question is what to do about it. To that end, Wagner outlines “six aspects of an organization’s culture where the conditions that make a person happy on and off the job have a demonstrated effect on the number and severity of accidents.” In short, how happiness can be leveraged to create a safer workplace.
But it’s not simply a matter of making employees happier. It requires a more rigorous approach that embeds happiness and other human factors in a safety management system, or at the very least in how the company views its safety practices.
Clearly, happiness plays an unavoidable role in health and safety outcomes. But the way that happiness operates in the workplace, and the manners in which safety folks and business leaders can influence employee happiness and engagement, are quite nuanced. This makes the article “Why Happiness is the Secret Ingredient of Worker Safety” an essential read for anyone interested in learning concrete ways to turn an old managerial concept into practical safety results.