A friend of mine recently complained that the phrase “Our employees are our most valuable asset” is among the most overused in business today. After thinking about that, along with the references to “human capital”, I had to disagree. It appears overused, but in reality it is misused. Too many bosses think it is an inspirational thing to say, but if they don’t walk the talk, it is worthless.
In my second or third year as a team leader, I was making a safety presentation to my team. I was reading a lot about Deming at the time, and the whole notion that quality, managed correctly, reduces cost. The same applies to safety.
When employees are fully trained and expected to work safely, the investment involved in getting them there pays off. They stay safe and remain able to work and contribute. They never become a non-contributing expense. One of my machine operators said “You’ve always been a proponent of safety Tim, but the way you just explained it, your interest is in lower costs, not my safety. If I didn’t know you, that’s what I would have understood you to say just now.”
This was a smart guy, a team member who had worked with or for me for at least 3 years at that point. He was trying to explain to the newer employees in the room that I cared more about their personal safety than they might think I did from listening to me. I assumed they already knew that.
I asked if that mattered, if working in the safest possible manner was it’s own reward, and something we do for ourselves and our family. The truth is that my employer at the time had a tighter standard for safety than many of us had. Things we might do at home to save time or money – like use a chair instead of a steady ladder – were simply not tolerated in the workplace.
But would people work more safely because they thought I was genuinely concerned for their safety, or because the consequence of discipline for not following rules was something they could not afford?
It occurred to me that I did not care about motive. I just wanted them to work as safely as possible. If they didn’t have a personal motive, then part of my work was to help them get one.
What’s your motive for encouraging safe practices at work AND at home? What is the motive perceived by your employees? Does it matter?
Let’s be careful out there.