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#2 - The "whys" are just as important as the "whats"

Those of us who are responsible for administration of company safety policy are often put to the test when introducing new rules to employees.  The abiding issue is “what’s in it for me?” and in many cases, the worker does not see a personal benefit to the proposed policy change.  More rules often serve to slow down the work process, and the all-too-common employee response is resistance to the new policy, which has a negative impact on both compliance and morale.

In my view, the situation is only made worse when we insist on focusing on the “what,” and avoid addressing the “why.”  We are generally quite good at telling the workers what we are requiring of them, but the real reasons why we are instituting the changes are dealt with obliquely.  We seem to expect that the reasons will be self-evident; i.e., safer is better, and this will make you safer.

The workers don’t necessarily think that they were unsafe in the first place, so new safety measures are often viewed as only serving to make their work lives more difficult.  More importantly, there is a burning question in the back of the employee’s mind: Why do you care if I’m safe or not?  Are you trying to tell me that you actually care about me?

That, my friend, is the million dollar question.  Literally.

I believe that companies and organizations avoid addressing this question because they fear being misunderstood.  The workers suspect that the company safety program is driven by economic concerns (true statement).  However, nobody is willing to say it out loud, and the silence leads workers to conclude that the company is hiding something from them.  Beyond that, refusing to say it is about money leaves the company in a position where they have to come off as if it is an act of altruism.

This approach would work if the employees were stupid.  Instead, it insults their intelligence.  They are fed up with being patronized, and yearn for someone, anyone, to tell them the truth.  This is why I’m saying that employee buy-in of a company safety program will only increase if you tell them it’s about money.  The workers already know it, and you will gain their respect when you muster the courage to say it in so many words.

This is #2 in a series of blogs on this subject.  Please feel free to comment on my assertions thus far.

For more information on how to improve employee buy-in of your safety program, go to www.tuningintosafety.com

Tony Martin