Workplace Safety May Not Be What You Think

computer on desk w booksWhile workplace safety involves”Safety First” signs, rules (that are frequently broken) requiring the use of safety equipment and cleanliness, there is another side of the safety issue.

A safe work environment includes mental and emotional safety, as well as physical safety.

A long time ago, I heard the famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar ask the audience of several thousand people what characteristics they wanted in an employee, and if they were an employee, what characteristics they would look for in a boss. Zig asked the audience to shout out their answers, and as they did, he wrote those answers on the overhead projector. Their answers may surprise you. Here are the qualities the random people in the audience said they wanted in others:

  • Integrity
  • Dependability
  • Honesty
  • Enthusiasm
  • Motivated
  • Compassionate
  • Humility
  • Sincerity
  • Competence
  • Creativity
  • Open mindedness
  • Loyalty
  • Positive Mental Attitude
  • Self Directed
  • Goal Setter
  • Admirable
  • Positive Self Image
  • Loves people
  • Prompt
  • Communicator
  • Has a calling
  • Long suffering

Wow! That’s quite a list, and I wasn’t able to write fast enough to get them all down. It is enlightening that the answers are always very similar with every group.

Here’s what I’d like you to do; study that list and imagine a person who meets most of the listed attributes, then answer this: How many of those qualities can you honestly say you demonstrate daily, or almost daily?

Consider this: those are the qualities that a group of random individuals said they want in a boss or employee. That’s important, so let’s look at these people for a moment and ask why they want these qualities. After all, they could have said they wanted people who are self-centered, belligerent, callous, careless, and many other negative things. Let’s examine why they want so many “positive” qualities in their associates.

If you would count yourself among the group who selected the qualities on Zig’s list, think why you appreciate those qualities in others. You probably said something like “that type of person makes life easier, or more enjoyable.” If that was your answer, you hit the nail on the head!

Why People Want These Things

People want the kind of characteristics in Zig’s list because, as modern science has shown, their brains want to keep them safe and in familiar surroundings. Sticking with a known situation is intuitively regarded as keeping safe. That is an emotional response that relieves the person of the need for taking a perceived dangerous step, such as searching for a new job, or ending an abusive relationship.

Almost all the qualities on Zig’s list are qualities of attitude, not skill. As one employer said, “If I can have an applicant who has those attitudes, I can teach him the skill.”

Most employees will tell you that if they had a boss with those attitudes, they would be able to produce more and better.

Both the employer and the employees are exactly right because those attitudes will greatly contribute to, if not produce a safe working environment.

A safe working environment is devoid of fear of embarrassment, abusive talk, physical abuse, pettiness, gossip, etc. When workers are subjected to an environment that contains those elements, even if they are not directed towards an individual, they naturally fear that “they may be next.” A mean or ignorant leader may respond that in fact, they may be, unless they produce.

A wise leader, on the other hand, understands that people who are nurtured by an environment of respect, honesty, integrity and most of the other things on Zig’s list will produce better, come forward with suggestions, respond with respect and courtesy which comes together to make their job, and yours, better in every way.

The reason for this is due to the involuntary internal adrenal response that occurs in people when they are fearful, therefore they are on “alert” for perceived danger, compared to them being comfortable and relaxed.

When a person perceives danger of say, embarrassment, their body releases cortisol into the bloodstream and their priority changes from the job at hand to self protection against a perceived threat. This is known as the fight or flight syndrome. Doesn’t it make sense that a person whose primary goal is to protect themselves will be less productive than one who is comfortable and feels free to create? And that a person who feels safe will also feel free to create and produce?

On the flip side, when a person feels safe and secure, his or her body will produce the neurological transmitting hormones, dopamine and endorphins, that cause him or her to be contented, happy and maybe even a little euphoric. That is a condition that wise leaders will encourage because it leads to better creativity and production.

The culture, you, as a leader, create and the attitude you express towards your people is all that is needed to create a safe work environment. The chemicals at work in your workers’ bodies will produce the expected result, for better or worse. Personnel problems are usually symptoms of leadership problems. If you remove the symptom, you still have the root problem. That’s a leadership treadmill. These facts hold true in the workplace, and even more so in the home, among your family.

The “icing on this cake” is that your expressions towards your people have an increased effect on you. When you help your workers feel good, you will feel more good than they do. How I wish I had known and applied this when I was in my twenties!

If you are an inexperienced or sloppy leader, who resorts to yelling, embarrassing your people or use other negative tactics to gain compliance, implementing the change in your attitude that I am suggesting will probably not get instant results. Your people will be suspicious of your changed attitude. You will get results over time, and the time it takes depends upon how long it takes for your workers to believe you have truly changed. But change you must, for your benefit, and most important, for the benefit of your followers, upon whom you depend to get the job done.

If you want to see faster improvement and want to have your people recognize you as a good or great leader, you can get together with them and tell them that you have been studying leadership and realize that your skills have been lacking and that you are working hard to change the way you do things, for their benefit. Your honesty and forthrightness will impress them and give them hope. Their “learning curve” for developing confidence in you and their freedom from real or imagined fear will come about much more quickly.

Leadership is influence. Most people are comfortable being influenced, but leaders step out of the crowd and begin to influence the crowd.

For more information on the effects of a leader’s methods of relating to people, see my recent post,  Some Helpful Leadership Science.

An ancient Chinese proverb says “A gentle wind calms a stormy sea.” Let me add that a calm wind also keeps a sea from becoming stormy.

What experiences have you had with these approaches to leadership? Other readers may be helped by your comment below. Let’s not let the good you can do for others die with you. Step up, speak up and let your valuable insights benefit us all. Thank you.

If you have a question or comment that you would rather keep private, please use the contact form below to contact me.