Humans thrive when they have a sense of belonging. EHS leaders ignore this fact at their peril because the need to be a part of something bigger is an innate characteristic of most humans and can have a profound impact on workplace performance and safety.
Research shows that humans evolved to cooperate and are hard-wired to help each other. In fact, freely giving and helping someone out is perceived as a pleasurable experience in the brain, creating oxytocin (the pleasure hormone) which in turn leads to even more positive interactions and enhanced in-group trust.
The basic human preference for teamwork can be harnessed to motivate employees in any organization and bring about a culture of engagement and safety. More specifically, companies should aim to provide their employees with an environment where information is shared, where workers support and help each other, and where people don’t have to compete for resources or management’s time. This can lead to significant improvements in morale, increased engagement, creative problem-solving and, most importantly, commitment to safety.
Additionally, groups perform better than their best individual members. Emphasizing team safety rather than individual safety can work to an EHS leader’s advantage. After all, many organizations have to deal with situations where one worker sees another performing a task unsafely but says nothing. Safety programs that encourage looking out for others can help create a workplace where safety is everyone’s responsibility.
In such organizations, workers are encouraged to watch others, not to report or criticize them but to ensure their safety. As a result, reminding a co-worker to wear PPE, for example, becomes a natural reaction to witnessing unsafe behaviors. And in organizations where safety is everyone’s responsibility, such actions are welcomed by each worker and celebrated by leadership.
The fact that being part of a group is motivating can be a game-changer for a company’s health and safety culture. Unfortunately, some leaders don’t realize that the workers’ need for belonging can also be used to demotivate them—accidentally or on purpose.
For example, organizations that create an atmosphere of uncertainty and continually pit workers against each other will not perform as well as their competitors in the long run. In fact, such toxic workplaces are likely to become less safe and less productive. Ultimately, they will lose valuable talent and a lot of money.
There are also cases of good-intentioned initiatives that destroy the company team spirit. For example, employee-of-the-month programs often cause workers to harbor resentment towards each other and towards the leadership. In fact, Dr. Paul Marciano, an expert in the field of employee engagement, sees employee-of-the-month schemes as a serious demotivator in a company’s effort to recognize talented employees.
Missing the safety goal
When groups exhibit trust and focus, they can reach inspiring goals. For example, competing against other teams in sports or having different production teams try to outperform each other can be a motivator and help build morale. But safety follows a different set of rules. Competing in safety may seem like a great idea on paper—for the same reason that team sports have always been so popular—but it can lead to regrettable results.
Safety is not something that lends itself to competitions. Teams competing against another facility in safety or aiming for zero injuries in a year can cause workers to hide injuries or fail to report safety incidents.
This approach to teamwork, although admirable on the surface, presents safety as a one-time number, a yearly score or a winner’s table, rather than a continuous process. But if safe behaviors are promoted and supported by workers who believe their colleagues’ safety is important, safety outcomes will naturally improve over time.
Depending on the workplace atmosphere and leadership attitudes, groups of employees can become tightly knit units that perform their work dutifully and safely if they’re properly engaged and motivated. So it’s well worth the effort to research and implement safety programs that encourage and feed off teamwork, team spirit and caring.
To learn more about engagement, watch this free webinar—it includes additional materials and interviews with experts to help you lead the way towards creating a more engaged and safer workplace.