The Psychology of Safety How to Get People to Perform in a Safe Manner – Part 3

By Bob Lapidus, CSP (Retired), CSMS



In our last two articles on how to get people to perform in a safe manner we discussed:

    1. Recognizing employees for doing a good job
    2. Getting employees involved in how to perform their work correctly and safely
    3. Knowing our organizations and what we are doing to prevent losses

In this issue of Inside Safety, we discuss identifying our employees’ needs.

It is probably easier to get to know our organizations’ structures and overall problems than it is to get to know our people, because the organization is a more objective entity to look at.  Understanding our employees and their needs requires more careful scrutiny for how we are dealing with attitudes, emotions, and hidden agendas that cannot be as easily quantified and analyzed.  Yet, we need to obtain this information to ensure our management actions are right for each situation.

Employees come to the work environment with their own individual goals, seeking not only a place where they can earn a living, but also an environment that will provide an opportunity to fulfill such diverse needs as achievement, status, independence, security, power, recognition, approval, care, and autonomy.  Attempting to identify each employee’s personal objectives is an in-depth and time-consuming task.

To accomplish this goal, employees need to accept their managers and trust them to honor their innermost thoughts.  Managers (including safety specialists) need to:

    1. Listen and show employees they truly care for their well-being.
    2. Respond to suggestions.  Let employees know whether management will implement their ideas or not.  If not, why.
    3. Be there when needed.  When called upon to participate in an employee event, managers should do their utmost to accept and cooperate.  Managers should go out of their way to be present on occasions of celebration, in emergencies, and when called upon to facilitate touchy or difficult problems.
    4. Follow up with employees who are off work due to injury or illness, especially when such problems are associated with work. We have learned that the employee who receives tender loving care from first-line management and safety people immediately after an occupational accident will be much more responsive to returning to work than the employee left alone, without management contact.  Avoid creating an adversarial relationship between workers’ compensation attorneys and insurance specialists.  Let employees know management cares for their well-being.
    5. Teach employees to solve their own problems. Managers cannot be with their employees all the time.  Providing employees with the skills and confidence to make decisions on their own, within parameters that provide them with such authority, not only improves employees’ self-reliance and feelings of achievement, but also creates a better-managed work environment.

When employees are able to solve their own problems, they do not waste time waiting for a manager to be available to make decisions, allowing the work to move forward to completion.

Such autonomy is especially true in safety matters when it comes to identifying hazardous situations and taking positive action to eliminate, reduce, or avoid hazards.

The process of gaining employee confidence takes time, but can lead to outstanding successes.

One of the first steps in identifying employee needs is to identify our own needs.  What is important in our lives?  What goals does work fulfill?

Dissect our own jobs and identify those aspects that provide us with the best feelings:

    1. What do we like best about our work?
    2. What do we like least?
    3. If we could change some aspect of our jobs, what would we change?
    4. If we could improve our jobs to make them more satisfying, how would we do it?
    5. If there are tasks in our work that we do not enjoy doing, how do we cope with those tasks?
    6. What motivates us to come to work each day?
    7. What motivates us to do a complete job with few errors?

This self-examination may be quite revealing and even result in a better understanding of ourselves.  After we identify our own needs, take the second step and seek a clearer perception of our employees’ needs.  Ask them!

When we understand our needs, it will help us better understand our employees’ needs for they must also come to work daily facing some tasks they do not want to do, or perhaps jobs that offer them no satisfaction, and therefore no fulfillment.  Ideally, that is not the case for most of our employees.  Probably they are quite like us, enjoying parts of their jobs while disliking other parts.  Yet, what drives them to come to work and do a good job ties directly to their inner needs and the stimuli that affect their daily lives.

Ask employees the same questions we ask ourselves.  What do they want from their jobs?

    1. Is it just a place to earn a living?
    2. Do they want a feeling of doing something worthwhile?
      1. Do they want their work to provide them with a major purpose for living?

Understanding employees’ personal needs, job expectations, and likes & dislikes will help us change or create the working environment that achieves improved employee satisfaction and productivity.

Getting employees to perform in a safe manner requires that management know not only how the organization functions, but also how its employees function.  The understanding of all this information will make our loss prevention efforts that much more successful.

In Part 4 of how to get people to perform in a safe manner, we will discuss Leadership.


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For More Information:

To become part of discussions on topics like the one above, go to www.safetycenter.org to obtain information about Safety Center’s Safety Management Specialist Certificate.

After completing this nine-day program, graduates may take the exam to achieve the Certified Safety Management Specialist (CSMS) designation.  Recipients of the CSMS receive a beautiful plaque and become part of an elite group of safety specialists who have achieved this recognition.  Once graduates attain this certification, they keep it for the rest of their lives without any additional requirements or fees.

Bob Lapidus is the co-creator with Jerry Bach of the Safety Management Specialist Certificate Program and the Certified Safety Management Specialist (CSMS) designation.