Columns / Editorial Comments

Do safety pros hate their bosses?

A Yahoo news story doesn’t paint a pretty picture

January 2, 2014
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Whoa, you’re treading on thin, very politically incorrect ground here when one uses the word “hate.” Several safety professionals advised me to “don’t go there” – hate is a vicious, extremely aggressive word, they say. Leads to “hate crimes” and out and out violence, they say. Don’t go there.

Last week I received an email from an old EHS professional friend who alerted me to a Yahoo news story: “Jobs where workers hate their bosses.”

Coming in at number five on the list of the top ten jobs where workers hate their bosses are “safety technicians” – whatever a safety technician means.

 Is that a “techie” who is low man or woman on the EHS totem pole?

Not a professional with a CSP or CIH but a guy pulled off the line, handed a gas monitor or observation checklist, and told to go out there and check for exposures and at-risk behaviors?

Or is it a reporter who doesn’t know the difference between safety manager, safety coordinator, safety specialist, safety officer, safety technician, a safety practicitioner or a safety professional?

You may argue all safety jobs involve technician’s work. More problematic: have you ever seen another discipline where there are so many titles to describe a job? How many ways can
one say he or she is an accountant? A barber? A landscaper?

Hate pervades society today

Before we get into how many safety “people” might exhibit extreme displeasure with their boss (is that better?) I’d like to take on this matter of “hate.” I think my safety friends are over-reacting, or perhaps not over-reacting but trying to protect the safety profession from negativity definitely not needed when dealing with senior leadership. Let’s be clear: safety professionals are not haters.

In the urbandictionary.com, haters are defined as “a person that simply cannot be happy for another person’s success. So rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person.”

I know of very few safety pros who spend their time exposing flaws in their bosses. They simply are too overworked to have time for such nonproductive nonsense.

Did you know there is a “haters” app. Of course there is. Here is the app’s promo: “Now there’s an app that allows you to share the things you Hate. Hate on celebrities, politicians, bad service, too much traffic, classmates, or annoying Facebook Friends.”

From the gist of that description I’d say there is a generation gap surrounding use of the word “hate.” The average safety pro today is 50+ years old, and I think they tend to take the word “hate” more seriously than the Facebook crowd. What’s so violently aggressive about “I hate long sideburns,” or “I hate it when I have to wait 20 minutes for a table”? I argue hate is used so often now, thanks to social media and blogs especially, it’s lost its intensity.

A definite minority of “boss haters”

But I digress. Yahoo News reported that safety technicians, with a median pay of $61,100 – (which sounds about right according to ISHN reader surveys), well, 16% say they hate their boss. I don’t see this as something to get all excited about. That means 84% do not hate their bosses. 16% is a definite minority. Who “hates” their bosses more than safety techs? 1) chemists; 2) dental hygienist; 3) bakers; and 4) food prep supervisors.  This information comes from a PayScale survey of 24,000 respondents.

You can argue that numbers 1 through 4 could harbor feelings of extreme displeasure because their bosses tend to be demanding and picky, and time pressures are at work. I have heard few safety pros over the years complain about demanding and picky bosses.

Just the opposite.

Many bosses of safety pros do not have a clue what they should be demanding about. They do not know enough about safety to be picky. If anything, safety pros I’ve talked with complain that their bosses are clueless about safety, having no schooling in the subject, and little interest to learn. They will complain that their bosses do not support them, do not listen to them, reject their ideas, don’t want to spend money on safety – but rare is the safety boss who is over-the-top unreasonably demanding.

So what is it that this 16% of safety techs hate about their bosses? Remember, we are talking about less than one in five professionals. I think these feelings emanate from their bosses’ ignorance about safety.

Annals of cluelessness

● A boss might decree: “Our injury goal is zero. We will achieve zero. No excuses. My bonus is at stake here. If there is an accident, it’s on you Mr. or Ms. Safety Professional. You want to change your title to “Injury Prevention Specialist?” Fine. Prevent injuries. Don’t fail us.”

● Or a boss might latch on to a bad incentive plan. “We need our people more motivated about safety. I’m putting a 25-foot sailboat by the front gate. Winner take all. When we go a year without a lost-time injury, and we will, we’ll have a drawing and one lucky devil wins that sailboat.”

● A boss might play the keeping up with his or her peers contest. “A lot of our competitors have these so-called safety cultures. I want one. I’ll give you six months. Write a mission statement. Form a culture committee. Do what you have to, but there will be no extra funding. Communicate to every employee we now have a safety culture, whatever that means. It means we will have zero OSHA violations, we will stay out of the papers, we will have zero injuries, and I can brag about it in our sustainability report. Now get moving.”

● A boss could easily over-react. “What’s with these hospitalizations and my god, two fatalities last year? Completely unacceptable. And you’re called loss control experts. You’re doing a damn lousy job controlling the worst possible losses. The papers are killing us. How’s this going to play in our sustainability report? I don’t care what you have to do; I don’t understand what you have to do; but listen good, no more reports of hospitalizations or fatalities are crossing my desk. I can’t make any more phone calls to families. And keep the damn victims’ families out of it. I don’t want them in our hair.”

Compounding factors

Now the seething frustration of the 16 percent reported by Yahoo could be compounded by several “irritants.”

● “They want us to build a safety culture in six months and they haven’t raised the safety budget in four years.”

● “They want zero injuries, no excuses, and they’ve laid off a third of our department.”

● “How am I supposed to do this when they keep piling on stuff like environmental reporting, sustainability reporting, screening contractors, drug testing, security, checking for obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, who’s smoking too much, drinking too much? They got me invading people’s privacy to lower healthcare costs. I’m a company spy around here to a lot of people.”

Present the truth

Instead of sitting around playing the “haters” game, why not build a case for what you need and have a sit down with senior leadership? Stick to the facts and evidence. Forget about speeches and don’t make it personal. Cite research and best practices to show what’s doable and what’s not. Influence, persuade, sell them.

My hunch is the 16 percenters cited by Yahoo are probably not adept at making these kinds of executive presentations. Maybe they don’t have the skills, the practice, or fear getting fired. Instead they bitch, vent, insult from a safe distance, and stress out. 66% of the 16 percents report high job stress. That’ll happen when extreme annoyance, to be politically correct, festers without resolution.

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