Occupational health and safety professionals may not immediately see the link between employee engagement and safety, but it exists. If an employee doesn't feel engaged with their work, they also may not be sufficiently motivated to stay safe.
Here's a look at why safer employers are engaged workers and vice versa.
Disengagement negatively affects colleague communications
Effective communications in the workplace could play a defining role in determining whether people remember the safety rules they hear or if they feel comfortable enough to tell their supervisors about potentially dangerous conditions. A 2017 survey found that people who rated their communications with fellow employees as poor were more likely to be disengaged.
Moreover, the same poll found that about half the employees in the study admitted they don't speak their minds at work. Disengaged employees commonly feel unsure of where they fit in at their companies, and they may believe their contributions don't matter. So, it's not hard to understand why disengagement could make employees stay quiet when they really should speak up — particularly about safety matters.
Engagement makes workplace incidents go down
Gallup performed a meta-analysis study of more than 1.8 million employees around the world and their workplaces to determine how engagement affected safety. It found that work units rated in the top quartile for engagement had 70% fewer incidents than those in the bottom quartile.
Engaged employees tend to naturally take pride in their work and want to follow best practices. They feel they're doing important work. All those things connect to a desire to maintain a maximally safe workplace.
Disengaged employees could place extra burdens on the workforce at large
According to a study from Towers Watson, only 20% of business leaders believe engagement tactics affect the bottom line. But, if they reach that conclusion, it indicates they don't see the full picture of what could happen. For example, different research showed that companies with better engagement have 20% less absenteeism and 15% greater productivity.
So, those figures suggest that disengaged workers are more likely to not show up for work and that they're less productive. Then, the disengagement of a few employees could have a toxic effect on the organization at large, especially if it means that the more engaged pick up the slack — such as when the disengaged people don't come to work.
Then, even if the engaged workers know and intend to follow safety rules, they may be rushing or overly tired due to the extra work created by the absenteeism or lowered productivity of the disengaged individuals. A similar problem could also happen if the engaged employees get so taxed that they become disengaged, too, or they decide to leave the organization.
In either case, the company has a larger problem to deal with that does affect the bottom line and must be dealt with to avoid far-reaching issues.
Disengagement could lead to disgruntled workers
It's absolutely not always true, but there are some instances where people begin as disengaged employees and become disgruntled. In the most severe situations, then, they could storm into the workplace and unleash their anger as violence toward their colleagues. When that happens, the workplace becomes unsafe for everyone in it.
Engagement goes beyond employee happiness
Some workplace managers who look into the matter of employee engagement think it only extends to worker happiness, but that's a short-sighted view. Although happiness factors into engagement in many cases, it goes deeper. Engaged employees recognize that their actions fit into the company's overall goals. They care about their work and see how the things they do are instrumental to the company's success.
As a starting point, employers can show they care about safety by investing in the personal protective equipment (PPE) that workers need to stay safe, and replacing it as necessary.
If workers hear complaints from their superiors when bringing up how their PPE is overly worn, they'll start to believe their employers don't care about safety at the individual employee level and think it's not worthwhile personally act to promote safety for the overall workplace.
Employers can also foster engagement by clearly explaining how a person's role assists the company, and why the work they do matters on a broad level. Investing in worker advancement, such as by encouraging them to enroll in paid career advancement opportunities, is another excellent way to boost engagement.
When workplace representatives actively contribute to their employees' success, those workers will more readily conclude that their workplaces appreciate them and consider them essential contributors to the company.
An inseparable link
This overview emphasizes that it's impossible to view workplace safety without seeing how it connects to employee engagement. When workplaces focus on one of those aspects, they enhance the other.