HR Insights 5 min

Maintaining a Safe & Healthy Workplace

October 7, 2020

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

  • Sufficient compensation: The money employees earn determines their ability to feed themselves and their families, pay for housing, and keep up with their utilities that provide warmth and physical comfort.
  • Comfortable workspace: A study involving 7,600 employees across 16 countries found that people who work in spaces with natural features (like plants, views, and natural light) reported 15 percent higher levels of overall wellbeing, feeling 6percent more productive, and 15 percent more creativity at work. (No word on office thermostat battles, though.)
  • Balanced time: Wherever employees work, there needs to be time to change positions, get a drink of water, and take restroom breaks. This means having sufficient facilities in the office and sufficient planning so employees have time to breathe between online meetings or other job duties.

Safety Needs

  • Safety training: Employees need to know how to protect themselves at work, whether it’s avoiding industrial accidents or knowing how to exit the office in an emergency.
  • Benefits: Ensuring that your employees have access to health insurance helps give them the assurance that they and their loved ones are protected in the event of accidents or illnesses.
  • Work environment: Employees also need to feel secure from human-created dangers in their workplace, including harassment and physical abuse.
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Love and Belonging

  • Psychological safety: After employees feel secure with how their employment provides for their physical needs, they need to know that the organization won’t take it all away if they offer critical feedback or admit failure.
  • Mental health coverage: Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues have an impact on employee focus. Employees need to know your organization recognizes these challenges and is willing to support mental health efforts through policy and management.

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:

Compensation

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.

Benefits

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.

Management

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:

  • Shared wellness goals: Many organizations have incentives for healthy living. But setting a shared goal like walking meetings, lunchtime volleyball matches (virus permitting), or something as simple as blocking out fifteen minutes of activity time as a team between Zoom meetings can help employees start to see the benefits of a healthier lifestyle—and it’s proof that your organization values those benefits as well.
  • Financial education: Many organizations offer 401(k) retirement savings. But without a foundation of financial knowledge, employees may not be able to manage their money well enough to take advantage of it. The next generation of employees is entering the workplace with limited financial literacy and high levels of debt. Working with benefits providers or other financial education programs to help employees learn sound financial principles can help free struggling employees from persistent financial worries (and the physical effects of the associated long-term stress).
  • Emotional Intelligence: Many organizations have statements listing their mission, vision, and values. But to translate those words into a healthy culture, they can’t just be posters on the break room wall. If your organization values openness, for example, you might challenge teams to politely and positively tell each other one weakness they’ve observed. When BambooHR issued such a challenge, it made a difference in our work life—but it also led to stories of parents having needed conversations with their children and having their relationships strengthened as a result.

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.

Brian Anderson
Copywriter

Brian Anderson is a copywriter with BambooHR, a full-service, cloud-based HR management software. His work explores employee engagement, total rewards, recruitment strategies, and how core HRIS software connects with every aspect of HR.