Get Employee Input… and Close the Loop

Get Employee Input and Close the Loop

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Leaders need to get more input from employees before making decisions that impact safety.
Better decisions are made when employee input is solicited. Participation rates are also higher. Years ago, we implemented a behavioral safety process in a manufacturing firm as part of a NIOSH grant. Half of the group designed their own card and rules for use (“participation group” ). The other half were given a card with instructions to follow (“compliance group” ). The participation group that designed their own process completed 7 times as many observations as the passive compliance group. In another organization, field employees were heavily consulted when revamping their pre-job brief meetings. During assessment activities, we were told that a) the process got much better, and b) people really appreciated leadership getting their input. This is good for safety and morale.

Also, leaders need to share the “why” behind safety efforts instead of simply implementing top-down mandates. When new rules are communicated, people may have legitimate concerns and questions about why the new policy is needed. Taking time to address the underlying reasons for the change increases the probability employees will follow these procedures even when no one’s looking.

Many employees lament that some identified concerns aren’t dealt with quickly or are swept under the rug. This creates safety problems and bolsters perceptions that “they don’t care.” One of the lower scoring items on our safety culture survey is found for the item, “When I voice my opinion to those higher than me in my company, I feel like they take it seriously.” This is especially true with perceptions of rigid policies and procedures. Many believe blanket policies are enforced without compromise or dialogue which creates frustration and resentment.

As an example, some mechanics at a manufacturing facility said the use of lanyards, harnesses, and hardhats at all times in certain areas create tripping hazards (and cut lines) and make it difficult to meet aggressive timelines. Others said leaders need to make better distinctions about when and where these items are truly needed. Most said they’re absolutely necessary for some jobs (and should be enforced) but only when they’re actually needed. In this example, employees’ voices should be heard and proper future steps should be jointly determined. Overall, leaders should get more input from employees before making decisions (especially with rules) and better share them once they’re determined.

Getting employee input is more than a slogan. It’s smart business. Better decisions are made when employees are consulted. Also, employees are more engaged when they’ve had a voice in making the decisions that impact them on a day-to-day basis.