Gallup just released another poll on employee engagement. About 32% of the 67,000 full- and part-time employees surveyed were engaged in their work in 2022. That’s about one in three of your employees. 50% are like, meh, doesn’t really matter – not engaged or actively disengaged. 18% were actively disengaged.
What does it mean to be actively disengaged? Bordering on workplace violence? Using ChatGPT to write your book report? No, it means “disgruntled and disloyal” because most of their workplace needs are unmet. A disengaged employee, operating on auto-pilot, wanting to get the job done as soon as possible, is also an accident waiting to happen.
These are your at-risk employees.
In contrast, Gallup says engaged employees are enthusiastic and committed to their work. They get involved. These are excellent candidates for serving as safety advocates, coaches, mentors, committee members and volunteers in various safety and health activities.
The 50% of your workforce who are neutral about their connection to their job and their company can make or break a safety and health program. They are passively sitting back to see what the company – and the safety and health team — do to address their major work-related concerns:
- Can I develop new skills with outside-the-box training that is not bound to the classroom and lectures?
- Can my voice be heard and my opinions count without the threat of retribution?
- Can I do work that I feel most competent at performing?
- How do I connect to the mission and values of the organization (and includes safety and health values)?
- Is there someone in the workplace who truly cares about my well-being?
- I need clear guidance on what is expected of me in terms of job performance.
You as a safety and health professional can’t answer these questions on your own. Of course not. You need your senior leadership and the rest of your safety and health team, full-timers and volunteers, to truly commit both time and resources (i.e. money) in order to win the hearts and minds of those neutrals, and demonstrate to those actively disengaged employees the seriousness of the organization intent to satisfy their reasons for being disengaged or ambivalent about work.
Here are seven ways you and your organization can leverage safety and health activities to re-engage the disengaged:
- Toss out decades of by-the-book safety and health training and deliver creative, interactive and fun, yes fun, training to build new skills.
- Find new ways of executing core safety practices, such as hazard identification, risk assessment, auditing management systems, and communicating safety alerts and updates.
- Study the core components of critical thinking and develop critical thinking skills that will reinforce workers’ confidence that they are performing to their maximum capacity – to their very best – without the interference of cognitive biases.
- Regularly engage in one-on-one conversations, personal coaching and mentoring; make use of buddy systems and teamwork; and lean into empathetic leadership to convince employees that yes, someone, actually a collective of coworkers and leaders, cares about their best interests, what they need to do the best job they can, and their personal well-being.
- Ask employees probing questions – in training sessions and on audits and walkarounds -- about work conditions, hazards, where the next incident is going to happen. Closely, patiently listening to their opinions without judgment or biases. These conversations demonstrate empathy, and show employees are free to speak their minds without negative consequences.
- As for connecting employees to a company’s mission and values, former Alcoa chairman Paul O’Neill chose to emphasize safety as he went about changing the culture and improving the profit picture of Alcoa. Why safety? O’Neill realized profits, production, customer service, quality and other operations and departments do not have the emotional connection to employees’ hearts and minds that saving lives and preventing injuries does.
- If employees want clarity about expectations, look no further than safety and health. The life and death stakes of many safety and health issues mandate very clear expectations about finding and fixing hazards, wearing PPE, entering confined spaces, locking out machinery, working at heights, responding to emergencies and numerous other elements of a safety and health program.
This is how senior leadership, you and your safety team and advocates can create strategies and action steps for convincing your employees (who are increasingly ambivalent about their workplace and their work) that your workplace indeed does care about everyone’s best interests and well-being.
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