Safety in the Workplace  

By Win Jeanfreau  

When the topic of “safety in the workplace” comes up, most of us reflexively think of strategies, policies, and procedures to reduce bodily injury.  

But an important aspect of workplace safety is often overlooked; emotional safety.  

Emotional safety has a meaningful impact on the health of the company and the health of its employees. Put in more actionable terms, emotional safety is all about workplace culture. There are two major upsides to a healthy company culture where emotional safety is cultivated and maintained.   

It’s good for business.  

A healthy workplace culture produces virtuous and measurable financial outcomes. These include, but are not limited to, lower employee turnover, higher levels of employee engagement (more time spent doing what they get paid to do), higher employee morale, and higher quality output.   

Research tells us that as much as 72% of employees that quit their jobs are actually quitting their immediate supervisor. According to author Steven Covey, with corroborating work from Jim Collins, Don Rheem, and Pat Lencioni, how employees “feel” at work is the greatest predictor of their longevity, has the strongest correlation to outcomes, and is the best measure of workplace culture that exists at a company.  

One of the pioneers in the field of workforce safety is Dr. Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business. Through her work, Dr. Edmondson has shown that creating emotional safety for employees is critical for encouraging employee voice, teamwork, and organizational learning.  

According to Edmondson’s research, emotionally safe employees can speak up and communicate openly. An open exchange of ideas and observations is vital for thriving businesses, particularly those with safety-critical operations (like healthcare) where being unable to speak up could have devastating consequences.   

Emotional safety also contributes to innovation and creativity. Employees who feel emotionally safe around leaders are more likely to speak up with insightful suggestions and fresh ideas. Employees who don’t feel judged can take a degree of measured risk; even if their idea doesn’t ultimately fly, valuable learning happens during the iterative ideation process itself. And when team members feel that their voice is heard, they are more motivated to perform at their absolute best.  

The solutions are easier than you think.   

The second upside to emotional safety is that it can be modified and improved because culture is created. According to author Don Rheem, the strategies for creating a healthy culture are remarkably simple.   

In his book Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance, Rheem identifies three specific behaviors that, when consistently practiced, provide the foundation for a healthy, thriving culture. The three actions leaders can take are:  

  1. Daily acknowledgment. Say hello to your employees by name while making eye contact.  
  1. Weekly recognition. Celebrate their achievements in front of their peers and supervisors.  
  1. Monthly feedback. This is a 10-minute, two-way dialogue on how they are doing, and what the company can do to improve.  

Rheem provides a great script for the recognition and feedback elements of these activities, and much more detail about creating space for employees’ voices can be found in his book. I strongly suggest you purchase, read, and apply the techniques he teaches.  

The emotional element of safety in the workplace simply can’t be overstated—it is critical to any company’s success. Those able to create and maintain emotional safety have a significant competitive advantage over those unable or unwilling to attend to workplace culture.  

iMpact Utah helps Utah manufacturers implement high-performance cultures through client transformation events supported by training. Contact us today to develop a competitive advantage guided by our team of experts.