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Health / Focus on wellbeing for safe, creative workplaces
An organisation that is first and foremost respectful of its people’s day-to-day wellbeing will be one where health and safety is effectively prioritised and practised. It’s my further belief that a top-level focus on wellbeing doesn’t simply produce cost-effective health and safety management – it also results in a collaborative, innovative and high-performing workplace.
An absence of workplace wellbeing results from many factors: exhaustion from continuous long hours, excessive commuting, sexist behaviour, noisy or poor quality working environments, a lack of true listening, among others. We obsess about health and safety yet ignore how the demands of modern work are destroying wellbeing.
Wellbeing is not a fluffy concept that compromises performance. When wellbeing is respected, individuals can be confident in their opinions and decision-making and have energy, which encourages not just safe workplace behaviours but also valuable, innovative thinking.
Wellbeing is a psychologically detailed way to examine what drives health and safety behaviour. But as things stand, wellbeing, as an integrated approach, has yet to gain as wide acceptance as traditional health and safety policies among clients and their organisations.
Most conventional workplace health and safety risks are long accepted. Professional businesses don’t let someone work on a project while drunk, intoxication makes them a danger to themselves and others. But following that logic it also makes no sense to let people work in a state of exhaustion after long hours, excessive commutes, dealing with cognitive overload and the stress of blame cultures.
Research bears this out. The Job Demands/Resources model shows how occupational wellbeing risk factors interact, focusing on the tension between job demands and an employee’s resources to meet them. The model predicts, amongst other outcomes; the workplace accident rate, workplace deviation (from safety protocols, or the tendency to commit security violations), and rates of absenteeism.
Workplace wellbeing factors, such as quality of supervisor/employee relationships, are often at the root of accidents. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster demonstrated the role played by poor workplace culture – ineffective conversations between management and workers, coupled with low corporate concern for psychological wellbeing led to poor decision making, a fatal explosion and billions of dollars of environmental damage.
As many engineers and designers will attest, clients are increasingly demanding cost-effective plans for the health, safety and wellbeing dimensions of their projects. But instead of running piecemeal and often siloed health and safety initiatives (that client commissions often demand), the Job Demands/Resources model shows that a higher-level focus on wellbeing is simpler and more effective.
A major airport Board representative told me that their airport had reduced liability claims from slips and falls from approximately £400,000 to £1,945 per year, in just five years – a 99% saving. The key drivers were the quality of interpersonal relationships and a workplace culture that was respectful, innovative and collaborative. This proved cheaper and more effective than relying solely on safety policies, processes, IT and physical changes.
By making wellbeing a priority an organisation decides that its role is to see its people flourish, rather than just mitigating the negative effects its work might have on people.
What would convince you, your client or your project, to place psychological safety and wellbeing practices at the core of your strategy to promote health and safety behaviours in the workplace?