Employee engagement describes a measure of the emotional investment and commitment employees have toward their company's success. Engaged employees feel a connection and involvement with their company; they feel valued and appreciated and are an asset to the organization's overall success. Sustained employee engagement can improve innovation, communication, employee retention, productivity, quality, and safety. Companies with a high level of employee engagement have a culture where employees
feel an emotional attachment to the company, and its vision, mission, ethics, goals, and objectives.
How does employee engagement impact safety?
A company that promotes employee engagement will be more successful overall and will be able to develop a more inclusive safety culture. Even with the best-intended safety policies and procedures in place, companies will continue to have incidents if
there is a problematic safety culture where employees are not involved or engaged in the safety process.
According to a Gallup 2016 study that examined more than 82,000 business units and 1.8 million employees in 230 organizations, companies with employee engagement scores in the top 25% of Gallup's database had 70% fewer safety incidents compared with companies with engagement scores in the lowest 25%. This ties strong employee engagement with improved safety performance, which makes a lot of sense. Why? Because when people are involved and believe their work matters, especially regarding safety,
they take ownership of the program and want to see it succeed. When building an effective safety culture, employee engagement is crucial toward getting employees to “want” to do the right thing when no one is watching.
How can a company strengthen employee engagement to improve safety performance?
There are many ways management can promote employee engagement in the company and its safety program. As with most successful company initiatives, employee engagement needs to be supported by management. Management sets the direction, must lead by example,
and be engaged themselves.
Sustaining a high level of engagement within the workforce, however, is driven by supervision. Front-line supervisors are the point where the rubber meets the road. Upper management must empower supervisors, foremen, and leads to regularly speak with
their direct reports to promote a purpose-driven safety culture. These interactions should involve communicating company goals, encouraging involvement in the safety program, and providing positive feedback to reinforce the workers’ importance
to the company's overall success.
Sustaining employee engagement might be the most challenging job for a supervisor, but it is fundamental for improving a company's safety culture. Often, supervisors become focused on production and managing a work project and neglect the responsibility
of communicating with their staff as an effective safety leader. The most successful supervisors make time to regularly interact with their workers to understand them as individuals better, build trust, and involve them in the safety process.
How can supervisors increase employee engagement levels?
1. Develop rapport
To increase employee engagement levels, supervisors must develop a rapport with their workforce that is built on trust, credibility, respect, and fairness. For some supervisors, initiating rapport with new employees may seem like a daunting task, but
it really is not complicated. Supervisors should schedule time to get to know their workforce and learn what motivates them. Below is basic information that supervisors should know at a minimum about each of their direct reports to improve employee
- Their name
- Their position in the company
- How long they have been with the company
- A little about their family. Are they married? Do they have kids? etc.
- Their hobbies, interests, and past work experience
Understandably, this list will grow over time as a supervisor builds rapport with their workers. They will learn even more useful information such as employee birthdays, anniversaries, favorite sports teams, kids’ or grandkids’ names, and
hobbies, among other facts, to further improve their relationships. All of this information will take time to gather and should be acquired during informal interactions and non-production-related engagements. The interactions should be sincere and
not be forced. Some workers may not want to share their personal life very much, and that’s acceptable.
This information helps supervisors know how to improve trust and respect down the road in future engagements. When a supervisor knows a worker well enough to say, “John, I want you to be able to pick up your grandson Bobby and take him fishing with
you this weekend, so please follow our safe lifting policies." It is far more effective than merely saying, "Please lift safely so that you don’t hurt your back."
2. Keep workers informed about goals and initiatives
Keeping employees informed of company strategic goals and safety initiatives is critical for succeeding at them. Supervisors must regularly communicate objectives, challenges, milestones, and successes within the company’s safety program. Employees should have a good understanding of where the company is headed over the coming months, and where management would like to see the company in the years ahead. This will make employees feel involved and confirm that their hard work makes a difference.
Employees will have greater ownership of the success of a company safety goal or objective when they are kept informed of the progress and feel integral to its success.
3. Encourage involvement in the safety program
Employee involvement in the safety program should be encouraged, and positive recognition should be given for their efforts. Assisting with inspections, leading a safety meeting, mentoring a new hire, or soliciting ideas for safety improvements and innovations are just some of the opportunities for safety program involvement that supervision can promote. Workers in the field may have great ideas that will advance safety efforts, even if the ideas are not firmly based on conventional industry safety practices.
Supervisors should listen to employee concerns and safety suggestions and act on them.
By engaging and building rapport with their workers, supervisors can also find areas within the safety program where individuals can contribute the most. For example, a supervisor may discover one of their more experienced older workers has worked at a company in the past with unsafe work culture and is open to sharing his experience with his co-workers. This employee might be an excellent candidate to conduct safety meetings, share their valuable experience in safety training, or mentor new
4. Give positive feedback
Finally, communicating positive feedback is proven to be more effective in establishing good safety behaviors than merely providing punishment for unsafe acts. Positive reinforcement increases a worker’s self-esteem and motivation to work safely and encourages employee engagement in the safety program. When it is appropriate to apply disciplinary actions for an unsafe act or safety violation, disciplinary actions will be more powerful. An employee who has been built up on positive reinforcement
will not want to disappoint their supervisor.
The concept of employee engagement can mean different things depending on the person to whom you are speaking. Some believe it means passionate employees, happy employees, or satisfied employees. For safety leaders, it means safer employees. Employees who are engaged have a “want to” versus “have to” attitude and are emotionally invested in the safety program's success.
Ultimately, the supervisor plays the key role in sustaining employee engagement and influencing safe work behaviors. Everyone wants to feel understood. The more a supervisor knows about their workforce on a personal level, the more effectively they
can influence safe behaviors and inspire employees to be committed to company safety goals. When a supervisor knows what is important to a worker – what motivates them – they can better communicate the importance and value of safety.
If employees are effectively engaged and involved in the safety program, it will positively contribute to the overall workplace environment and motivate them to care more about their safety and their co-workers' safety.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bradley Whitney, CSP has been a Loss Control Manager with The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. since 2012. He holds the designation of Certified Safety Professional from the BCSP. He is also an active member of the Las Vegas chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers. Brad received his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Oregon State University.
- Employee Engagement: The Key to a Strong Culture - AEU LEAD - Sep 23, 2019 - Joe White
- Engaged Workplaces Are Safer for Employees - Gallup Business Journal - May 24, 2016 - Brandon Rigoni and Bailey Nelson
- How Engaged Workers are Safe Employees - August 16, 2017 EHS - Michelle Boeldt