Maintaining a Safe & Healthy Workplace

Even with a modern focus on strategic HR, compliance is still the main reason HR exists. There’s a dual protective purpose: compliance helps protect employees from harm at work while protecting the organization from the penalties attached to labor laws. Compliance is just the baseline, however. When employees know their employer prioritizes safety in the workplace, it frees their focus to help create a physically, mentally, financially, and culturally healthy workplace.

Why Safety in the Workplace Matters

Psychologist Abraham Maslow categorized human needs into a pyramid, with immediate needs on the bottom and more personalized motivation on the top. Over the next several decades, other psychologists would refine these categories, applying these insights on personal life to work life.

While human motivation is complex, needs at the bottom of the pyramid take priority over needs further up the pyramid. Your employees might take time to assess whether their job is helping them fulfill their purpose in life but likely not while your office is on fire and they’re army crawling under the smoke toward the stairwell. If an employee doesn’t have health, safety, security, and emotional support, then those needs will be a persistent distraction until they’re met.

To avoid having these distractions detract from the quality of their work, employees need to feel safe at work, and for this to happen, their experience while working for you needs to consistently meet their most pressing needs. Several factors build support for each of these basic needs, and it takes a holistic policy approach to fully meet them. Consider the following needs, starting from the base of the pyramid of motivation:

Physiological Needs

Safety Needs

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Love and Belonging

Maintaining safety in the workplace means responding to these issues directly when possible and giving employees the knowledge, training, and encouragement they need to solve issues outside work. This foundation of safety is essential for building a healthy workplace—one where employees go beyond surviving and start thriving.

Maintaining Safety in the Workplace

Maintenance is the right word to describe workplace safety, because you can’t bank past performance to take care of today’s needs. Eating a week’s worth of food in a single sitting doesn’t lead to seven hunger-free days, and the count on the Days Without An Accident sign matters least to the person who resets it. Creating a truly safe workplace means responding to issues that come up as soon as possible.

"The count on the Days Without An Accident sign matters least to the person who resets it."

While not all workplaces have processes that can lead to grisly injuries (researching workplace safety videos isn’t for the faint of heart), incidents that leave employees questioning their workplace safety can solidify an employee’s decision to leave.

To maintain safety in the workplace, review and optimize these elements of the employee experience:


Helping employees feel their lifestyle is secure starts with consistent payroll, but a good starting salary isn’t the end of the story. To continue protecting your employees, your compensation plan needs to keep ahead of the cost of living and the current employment market.


The unknown is frightening at the best of times. At the worst, employees learn how much they didn’t know after a serious accident or medical crisis reveals their health or financial protections were insufficient. If this happens, it will be cold comfort to find out your organization had an option that could have protected them.

Taking the time to offer and emphasize benefits education can help employees learn how to select the best options to protect themselves and their loved ones. Scheduling quarterly Q&A sessions with benefits providers can help employees get answers to their questions, no matter how long it’s been since open enrollment or their orientation meeting.


While the decisions your leadership team makes on compensation and benefits set the stage for employee safety, managers determine much of how those decisions translate to your employees’ experience. It’s up to managers to resolve conflicts, promote professional development, and encourage employees to live a balanced life instead of becoming work martyrs.

Maintaining Health in the Workplace

To be clear, promoting safety in the workplace includes responding to circumstances as they arise. No matter how much your organization plans in advance, life and people are still unpredictable at times. But no matter how well you do it, safety alone will not inspire your employees to give their best. To inspire a truly healthy workplace, your organization needs to appeal to higher motivations as well.

When your programs recognize employee accomplishments at work and help them learn skills that also benefit their lives outside work, it’s easier for your employees to take the initiative and participate.

Here are a few examples of how a shift to higher motivations can transform standard safety measures into cultural touchstones that connect employees with your organization:

Building Employees’ Full Potential

No matter where your organization is on the journey from providing a safe workplace to helping employees fulfill their life’s ambitions for their career, taking the time to understand what motivates your employees—both in the office and outside work—can help your organization demonstrate how much it values its employees.