Feeling Safe in the Workplace – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: March 09, 2019

There has been slow, steady progress over the years of the industrial revolution to improve the physical safety of workers. At the time, the assessment of company leaders, unions, and government agencies continued to demonstrate the fact that when employees feel physically safe in the workplace, their work improves and operational efficiency of the business increases.

Fast forward a generation or two into the current environment of the knowledge worker where the pace of change and disruption in the marketplace continues to accelerate, and we see the emergence of a new kind of need for safety in the workplace that can drive improved performance. Academics and business consultants studying leadership effectiveness would document the need for individuals to feel mentally and emotionally safe to share different points of view, raise topics without fear of repercussions, and have difficult conversations in a timely manner as the new, critical areas of feeling safe in the workplace that will sustain improved business performance.

There is solid evidence for senior executives and the top talent on their teams to ensure team members feel safe to speak up and address key issues head-on without a significant fear of being viewed as “not a team player” or more directly, being labeled as a pain-in-the-ass that slows down the process and most likely will be passed over when the next talent review is conducted to support various internal promotions.

The business issues continue to get more complex and senior executives can’t be on the front lines in all sectors. It is important for senior executives to have people on the ground with a sense of safety to quickly raise key customer challenges, emerging competitive pressures, or indications when the original annual plan is coming off the rails to ensure the survival of the business. Toxic internal/HQ environments can also disrupt the long-term health of the company as we have witnessed over the years with accounting irregularities that were never surfaced or the revelations that the #MeToo movement has brought to boardrooms in every business sector.  

Ensuring team members feel safe in routine meetings, operations reviews, strategic planning sessions, talent assessments, etc. is critical to the long-term strength of the business. Here are a few ideas to ensure senior executives and the top talent on their teams create an environment where team members feel safe:

  • Set the Example: There is no greater action step than leaders demonstrating the courage to raise key issues and put difficult topics on the table. We must “walk the talk” as leaders if we want others to follow.
  • Different Viewpoints: Leaders need to acknowledge the truth that we all see the world as we are, not as it is. Ensuring we gather a wide, diverse set of viewpoints is critical to making the most effective decisions on complex business challenges. Teams comprised of everyone having the same viewpoint will soon miss some major shifts in the market.
  • Recognition: Leaders need to consistently take time “in the moment” to recognize team members who make courageous attempts to speak up on relevant topics. We would all love difficult topics to be raised in a respectful and thoughtful way. However, in the workplace, just like life, things can get messy at times. Leaders needs to recognize issues being raised even when they are not done in the “approved company protocol” as there is a greater risk of continuing to sweep critical issues under the rug vs not abiding by the company protocol. Over time, some coaching and training can help team members with the company protocol, but for now, priority should be given to getting the issue on the table.  

Modeling the above behaviors will help senior executives build the healthy culture that companies need to ensure team members feel mentally and emotionally safe to effectively contribute to the long-term health of the business.

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say?

Here are a few resources to help:

  1. Download FREE resources at www.harvesttimepartners.com
  2. Contact me. Email: david@harvesttimepartners.com (M) 269-370-9275

David Esposito

Real life businesspeople shot on location. Since these locations are the real thing, and not shot in an “office studio”, high ISO levels are sometimes needed to catch the moment. The ISO range is between 250-600 so it should be fine for most usage cases. Most people won’t notice anything really, but if you are a nerd like us, you can see a little noise.

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