EDITORIAL COMMENTS: Money talks, culture walks?
The â€œculture vulturesâ€ say you need trust, fairness, openness, ownership, teamwork, leadership, accountability, feedback and recognition, among other building-blocks, to create an organizational culture that turns on employees. That increases job satisfaction, morale, participation, productivity, innovation, and other positives.
Well, the SHRM survey reminds us, letâ€™s not forget about this little matter of take-home pay. â€œShow me the money,â€ say employees. Or at least 70 percent of them, according to the survey. Seven in ten employees surveyed reported compensation to be the most important factor in job satisfaction.
Or to look at it this way: What are the chances of building a world-class organizational culture, and more specifically an excellent safety culture, if your employees are not satisfied on the job because they feel under-paid?
â€œIt should come as no surprise that employees are more concerned about their compensation,â€ said Susan R. Meisinger, president & CEO of SHRM, in a press statement. â€œWith the rising costs of health care premiums and prescription drugs, employees know they need to put more of their money toward covering health care and retirement.â€
Missing ingredient?Thatâ€™s todayâ€™s reality. But we donâ€™t hear culture experts talk much about compensation in their lectures on building world-class safety organizations. Compensation plans get one mention in Dr. Tom Krauseâ€™s new book, Leading with Safety. Competence, commitment, communication and risk compensation are covered in Dr. Scott Gellerâ€™s 2005 book, People-Based Safetyâ„¢: The Source, but not financial compensation as a factor in what makes for a satisfied employee â€” one more likely to engage in safety activities.
This isnâ€™t to say Drs. Krause and Geller are somehow naÃ¯ve or off the mark. Their books are chock-full of ideas and strategies for building a better, safer workplace. And they are psychologists, not economists. Plus, they might argue â€œof course money mattersâ€ â€” and compensation is part of the equation when issues such as â€œorganization justiceâ€ and â€œperceived organizational supportâ€ and â€œrecognition and rewardsâ€ are discussed.
In his column this month (page 17) on world-class organizations, Dr. John Kello lists seven characteristics. These cultures are well-led and have values beyond bottom-line returns. People at all levels are held accountable for meeting goals and objectives. Management structures are kept simple and leaders constantly scan the horizon for new trends and developments. Employees are committed to cohesive teams, and leaders listen to what those teams have to say. And finally, Dr. Kello says the best of the best â€œinvest heavily in their people.â€
But he doesnâ€™t directly say their people are well-paid. The best of the best in his words are â€œemployee friendly.â€ That conjures visions of wellness centers, EAPs, flex hours, training and more training offerings, on-site daycare, bright lights, colorful walls, quiet cubes, any number of things. What about being friendly to the employeeâ€™s pocketbook?
Pay scales & safety performanceLetâ€™s look at it in terms of safety. Itâ€™s difficult to imagine employees committing to cohesive safety teams and striving to achieve safety goals and objectives if they donâ€™t believe they are being compensated fairly. Indeed, a 1979 NIOSH study of â€œSafety Program Practices in Record-Holding Plantsâ€ found: â€œPay scales were generally quite high in relation to other (plants) in the surrounding community, and fringe benefits were typically quite good.â€
Thatâ€™s about as direct a statement as youâ€™ll find in the safety literature linking wages to safety performance. The entire subject of economics â€” profits and ROIs and compensation plans â€” make many safety pros uneasy. Itâ€™s the school of thought that safety excellence is achieved for reasons above and beyond dollars and cents â€” with the emphasis on â€œabove,â€ as in higher values, the moral high ground. â€œIâ€™ll shoot the first accountant who comes to me showing how safety pays off on the bottom line,â€ ex Alcoa CEO Paul Oâ€™Neill famously once said. â€œThatâ€™s not the message about safety we want to send employees.â€
But in surveys such as the latest job satisfaction poll from SHRM, employees are sending their own message. Money matters.
The bottom lineSure, we canâ€™t overlook other important ingredients that go into highly effective work cultures â€” communication, planning, listening, relationships, conversation, delegated decision-making, providing a safe and secure workplace, adapting to todayâ€™s need for work/life balance. All the points made by experts such as Drs. Kello, Krause and Geller. Plus, you need the technical essentials of any safety and health program, as spelled out by Dr. Dan Petersen in our recent June and July columns â€” accident investigations, accountability systems, discipline, rewards et al.
But the fancy words and feel-good stuff shouldnâ€™t hide the fact when it comes to safety, like politics, employees vote with their wallets. If you want their â€œvoteâ€ â€” their participation and commitment â€” check how satisfied they are with their compensation. Wages tell employees, more than any flowery vision statement, just how much they are truly valued by an organization. If employees perceive they are being â€œsupportedâ€ fairly when it comes to compensation, your safety program will be on much stronger ground than if employees feel exploited.