Reality Check: Safety at Work

Last post, I suggested that one of the “wants” identified by the Laasers in their book, “The Seven Desires of Every Heart” applies to the workplace. That’s the desire each of us has to be heard and understood.

Another of the desires identified by the Laasers also has a place in the workplace—the desire to be safe.

Corresponding to the desire for safety is the choice theory need for security and survival. Each of us has some level of this need. For some folks, this need is a key driving force in their lives. It motivates them to save money, to avoid hazardous work or play, and to arrange their lifestyle so that they perceive that they are as secure as possible.

You know that you can’t produce your best quality work if you are afraid or distracted by possible dangers. You may already be familiar with Occupational Health and Safety regulations. If so, you know that companies invest money, time, and training to ensure that workers are safe and that hazards are mitigated.

While physical safety is important, safety at work is not limited to making sure you have proper safety gear and training for hazardous conditions. Fear of physical danger can be minor compared to other fears that people experience in the workplace.

The quality guru, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, famously commanded management: “Drive out fear.” What fear is he referring to?

While safety hazards may be addressed through safety committee meetings and legislation, there exist many “fear” hazards that aren’t so openly addressed. For example, you may have an ever-present fear of losing your job, which could put your very survival and security at risk. That’s one source of fear.

Another source of fear is a consequence of some workplace cultures. Some folks still believe that it’s OK to put other people down, to intimidate them, or even to shout at them! The fear of being mocked, ridiculed, or embarrassed, especially in front of others, is powerful. If that’s your workplace, then the work climate is likely one where workers live in fear and “keep their heads down.”

While the word “bullying” is popular today, this type of behaviour in the workplace is hardly new. In fact, some managers believe that “management by fear” is the way to keep their employees motivated.

The end result of using fear to motivate is that folks would rather continue doing their tasks wrongly or inefficiently because they are afraid to suggest a better way.

Whether interactions founded in fear are caused by supervisors or co-workers, the result is the same: no one’s best work is done in this atmosphere.

In a fear-filled workplace, you will find supervisors who complain that workers have no initiative and motivation, and workers who complain that supervisors are out of touch, disrespectful, and intimidating.

A truly safe workplace is one where everyone—workers and management—is working toward the same goals. Products are being made, services are being offered, and everyone is motivated to achieve the best possible results that they can.

Have you experienced fear in your workplace? What are your sources of concern?

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