How health and safety can help you engage your employees

Oct 18, 2013

Engaged employeesIn upcoming months, Caesars Windsor will put all of its supervisors, managers, directors, and executives through two days of supervisor training. The focus of the course is communication and coaching, but the broader goal is to further engage all employees.

The decision to offer this training resulted in part from the findings of a confidential supervisor feedback survey. "Based on that feedback," says Kelly Wolfe-Gregoire, the facility's vice president, human resources, "we saw an opportunity to help our supervisors get better at coaching and providing feedback.

"It's important that we regularly review employees' performances with them and focus on what they're doing well or very well. Especially in a service-based industry like Caesars Windsor, we want every interaction with our customers to be memorable, and not only with our external customers but with our internal customers as well."

It's also good business, says Wolfe-Gregoire. "There is a direct corelation between our employees' positive interactions with our guests and customer retention and loyalty.

"But what I really like about this program is it reinforces communicating with employees about aspects of their job they do well. 'This is what you did well, this is why it worked, and this was the expected outcome you achieved.' And if things didn't go well, then the communication is about what the employee could do differently to achieve a more positive result. The proven theory is that we perform well when we feel appreciated and recognized," explains Wolfe-Gregoire.

So, how many people will take the training? "It's in the neighborhood of about 700 supervisors and managers," says Wolfe-Gregoire, which works out to about a quarter of the facility's workforce.

And how does health and safety fit into all this? "It's about setting up employees for success."

So, does success promote health and safety, or does health and safety promote success? "It's a little bit chicken-and-egg, isn't it."

The top 25% of workplace teams - the best managed - versus the bottom 25% - the worst managed - have nearly 50% fewer accidents and 41% fewer quality defects.

The case for engagement

Studies show that employee engagement is a business imperative that can affect a number of performance outcomes, including profitability, customer satisfaction and employee retention. In a world where high performance is the expectation, not the exception, employee engagement can give businesses a real competitive edge.

Engagement is more than job satisfaction. It's about employees' involvement in and commitment to their work. Employees who are engaged are fully involved in and enthusiastic about their work, and so fulfill their responsibilities in a way that furthers their company's interests. It's a measurable degree of how attached employees are to their job, colleagues and organization, and how motivated they are to accomplish tasks that contribute to organizational goals.

How measurable? Consider these research-based statistics:

  • engaged employees can increase your profit margins by as much as 4%i
  • organizations with high levels of employee engagement (65% or greater) posted total shareholder returns 22% higher than average in 2010ii
  • the top 25% of workplace teams - the best managed - versus the bottom 25% - the worst managed - have nearly 50% fewer accidents and 41% fewer quality defects.iii

Health and safety is a key factor in employee engagement. If workers feel healthy and safe, they also feel their employer is supportive and committed to their well-being and satisfaction. According to Kenexa, an IBM Company, workers who feel the organization cares about their well-being are roughly four times more likely to be engaged than those who don't.iv To expand on what Wolfe-Gregoire says above, it sets both them and the business up for success.

The downside: when employees aren't engaged or worse, treated poorly

Workplaces where employees work under conditions of debilitating stress or even just beside others who are over-stressed experience these effects:

  • decreasing employee satisfaction
  • greater use of employee assistance programs (EAPs)
  • social and work disruption due to under-performance, presenteeism or absenteeism, increasing stress on everybody
  • greater conflict
  • less innovation, collaboration and motivation
  • decreasing meeting of deadlines
  • reduced quality of customer service.v

Research published in 2008 contends that reduced labour force participation (e.g., absenteeism and presenteeism) due to depression, chronic depression, bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and agoraphobia already costs the Canadian economy $20.7 billion a year. By 2030, these costs are expected to reach $29.1 billion.vi

One of the strongest risk factors for presenteeism is depression. About 4% of working adults experience a depression at any one time.vii While depression may occur for many reasons having nothing to do with the workplace, treating employees well can mitigate the effects and help depressed workers become more productive. Conversely, treating workers poorly can reduce morale and productivity, increase turnover, and possibly lead to lawsuits, human rights claims, and health and safety complaints.

Workplaces that knowingly mistreat employees, watch out. Two recent cases suggest that juries are increasingly prepared to punish employers for improper conduct towards workers. In Ontario, a jury awarded an employee $1.4 million for workplace harassment and violence that led to constructive dismissal. In BC, a long-service employee received $800,000 in a wrongful dismissal case.viii

What promotes employee engagement

According to the Kenexa Research Institute, the top 10 drivers of employee engagement are

  1. confidence in the organization's future
  2. promising future for me
  3. support for work/life balance
  4. safety is a priority
  5. excited about work
  6. confidence in the organization's senior leaders
  7. satisfied with recognition
  8. corporate responsibility efforts that increase overall satisfaction
  9. satisfied with on-the-job training
  10. manager who treats employees with respect and dignity.ix

At least three of these drivers involve health, safety and well-being. "This includes security of environment, employment, resources, health, property, etc.," explains WSPS key account manager Jennifer MacFarlane. "It's a basic need for employees. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, health, safety and well-being are only one level above our most basic needs - food, water, sleep, etc. So, if a business doesn't look after workers' health, safety and well-being, then they will never be able to achieve their full potential."

What an engaged workplace looks like

"Within five minutes of walking into a workplace," says MacFarlane, "you can tell whether or not employees are engaged." WSPS Network News asked MacFarlane what a person would see walking through an engaged workplace. Follow her on a hypothetical tour.

  • You walk through the side door before the shift begins and see employees talking with each other. It may have nothing to do with work. They could be talking about a game the night before, or the upcoming weekend. Doesn't matter. They're connecting.

  • As you turn a corner, you see a supervisor with a group of workers around her. A pre-shift tailgate talk? There's some back and forth in the conversation. So perhaps they're discussing a challenge or working together to solve a problem.

  • Further on another supervisor is talking with a worker. Not lecturing, but interacting. Maybe coaching?

  • While walking down an aisle, someone ahead of you stops to gather up something someone may have dropped earlier. Rather than ignore it, he's taking time to eliminate a potential trip hazard. You realize that, on the whole, the workplace is tidy and well organized. Everything appears to be in its place. Aisleways are uncluttered, and the lighting fixtures are all functioning.

  • You make your way to a meeting room where you're scheduled to make a presentation. People start arriving as you're setting up. They introduce themselves and start asking you about the topic. They're interested in what you have to say. After the presentation, there's an active Q&A session.

  • You leave the meeting room and head to the lunch area. It's clean and welcoming. People are sitting together in small groups. In one group, someone's telling a story and people are laughing. On one wall is a notice board, on which are posted photos from the last company barbeque. There's a designated spot on the board for minutes from the joint health and safety committee's most recent meeting. Next to the minutes is a photo of an employee whose suggestion won her that prized parking spot closest to the employee entrance, at least for the next month.

  • On your way to a production meeting, you hear a manager speaking well of a colleague. 'Great person to work with,' she says. 'A real team player.'

  • During the meeting, health and safety comes up several times. It's an integral part of the discussion, not something handed off to the safety manager. At one point, a worker is invited in to share an idea he had proposed to his manager. The team listens with interest, and after he finishes they discuss and diarize next steps. Later in the meeting a supervisor updates the team on a situation with a worker who has been told several times to wear safety shoes. Turns out the employee is cash strapped. Instead of disciplining him, the company agrees to purchase a pair of safety shoes for the worker and make small regular deductions from his paycheque until the shoes are paid off. "I'll check in with him in a few days to see how he's doing," says the supervisor. And so the meeting proceeds.

  • The end of the meeting coincides with the end of the shift. As you leave the building, people smile or nod. In the parking lot, you see a few people chatting before getting into their cars. Someone from the production meeting waves good-bye, and you head off.

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