When we think of the places that make us the happiest and most productive, we often think of the places that make us feel safe. When we talk about safety in the workplace, we need to dig deeper than the surface-level physical safety protocols and procedures.
Do your employees feel physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe at work?
We’ve all seen how delivery/production goals can sometimes push safety goals down the priority order without the explicit awareness or endorsement of either workers or management. If people believe that engaging in workplace safety behaviors will help them and others stay safe and healthy, they are far more likely to engage in them.
Behavior adoption among nonmanagerial employees matters, too. Research suggests that once about 25 percent of people adopt a behavior, it becomes a social convention. Consider asking some more senior or influential employees to volunteer as champions who actively model good safety behaviors and explicitly remind their peers to do the same.
Using the COM-B model for behavior change science, employers can enable employees to feel supported and safe. For any behavior to occur, people must have the capability, motivation, and opportunity to perform it:
To increase the likelihood of a given behavior, designers should look at where barriers currently exist in those three categories. Those barriers then become targets to be addressed by design. Mad*Pow helps employers use the COM-B model to identify likely barriers to safety behaviors and implement procedures that mitigate them.
The COM-B model is accompanied by the Behavior Change Wheel, linking intervention categories to barrier types. At Mad*Pow, we use the Behavior Change Wheel as a guide to determine the type of design that might be most effective based on the barriers observed in research. Once the interventions have been selected, our designers can layer in the specific feature sets that are right for the problem and audience.
Designing for Capability
Capability (physical and psychological) refers to a person’s ability to perform the behaviors in question. In assessing capability, we inquire whether employees can safely perform the behaviors being requested of them. We ask:
Are safety protocols, especially new processes, clearly communicated and visibly posted in close proximity to where a behavior needs to occur?
If someone’s mask or other PPE becomes uncomfortable during a shift, is there a private or well-ventilated area where they might safely take a break from it?
If a mask hinders someone’s breathing, could they use a face shield or sit behind a plexiglass partition instead?
Interventions that can influence capability include education, training, and enablement.
In assessing physical capability, we inquire whether employees can physically perform the safety behaviors being requested of them. When barriers exist, it may be most fruitful to look for alternatives to the difficult behavior or determine how the employee might be safely exempted. There also may be opportunities for enablement, which is the use of tools or assistance to accomplish a behavior.
Psychological capability refers to the knowledge necessary to perform a behavior. Detailed instructions can go a long way in supporting employees’ psychological capability to engage in safety behaviors. Part of supporting psychological capability is ensuring people have the knowledge they need at the right time and in context. Suppose any existing processes have changed to incorporate new safety steps. In that case, employers should take the time to update documentation wherever employees typically reference it, so they are availed of the most recent process.
Designing for Opportunity
Opportunity (physical and social) refers to the environment in which a behavior occurs and how it might either enable or hinder the behavior. In assessing opportunity, we survey the workspace to ensure it facilitates a safe environment. We ask:
Does the physical layout of the work environment facilitate safety or make it challenging?
Is management signaling safe behaviors and “walking the talk?”
Is there a robust social atmosphere in which people feel comfortable to share thoughts and express their needs?
Interventions that can influence opportunity include training, restriction, enablement, environmental restructuring, and modeling.
To understand the physical opportunity factors associated with safety behaviors, we like to survey the workplace environment. Look at the architecture of the building itself, the layout of the office space, where desks or workspaces reside in relation to each other, and the overall environment. Consider the physical tools required to do the job, how easy they are to use, where they are stored, and any safety procedures related to sterilization, operation instructions, etc.
While the physical opportunity has to do with the natural and built environments, the social opportunity is about the other people who influence someone’s behavior. People naturally look to others for cues as to the “right” way to behave. A key factor influencing whether workers observed the safety rules was whether they witness supervisors also doing so. Management behavior sends a signal above and beyond any stated recommendations about acceptable behavior.
Designing for Motivation
Motivation (automatic and reflexive) refers to the beliefs, desires, and attitudes that influence whether or not a person does a behavior. In assessing motivation, we understand that one’s safety on the job isn’t necessarily the motivation to do that job. We ask:
Is it possible to adjust expectations around employee performance to accommodate safety behaviors that take additional time and effort?
Providing hazard pay or bonuses when employees incur risk, work extra hours on a project, or perform duties outside their standard schedule/job description.
Is it possible to offer flexible hours for employees with caregiving or other responsibilities?
Interventions that can shape motivation include education, training, persuasion, modeling, and incentives structures.
Automatic motivation refers to the belief system a person has about a behavior and its outcome. If people believe that engaging in workplace safety behaviors will help them and others stay safe and healthy, they are far more likely to engage in them. It’s critical to prioritize credible, current information from reliable and respectable sources. Automatic motivation can also be shifted by reframing employee behaviors. Acknowledge employee contributions and thank them for their service when they incur additional risk at work.
Reflective motivation is what most people mean when they talk about motivation: the goals and priorities people have for their actions. Assuming that construction workers believe that taking precautions will reduce their chances of experiencing a serious fall or injury, it’s reasonable to think that safety behaviors are a priority. However, other work priorities don’t necessarily become less important to them. An employee could care about their own well-being, but also meeting a deadline or production goal. We’ve all seen how delivery/production goals can sometimes push safety goals down the priority order without the explicit awareness or endorsement of either workers or management.
How Empathy Affects Safety
Perhaps more than any single process or procedure, people need to feel cared for and seen in a time of uncertainty, difficulty, and loss. When leadership in an organization spends time in acts of care ‒ when they provide employees the opportunity to be vulnerable and acknowledge the hardships they’re facing without negative repercussions ‒ it fosters trust and loyalty. Investing time in conversation, being ready with a listening ear, and expressing empathy can go a long way in creating a positive EX and employee-friendly environment.
Want to learn more about how Mad*Pow can enhance your employees safety? Fill out our contact form on the next page and we will reach out to schedule a meeting.