By Phil La Duke
Let me make this as clear as my meager writing skills an make it: if you can’t lead then you put yourself, your workplace, and your organization at risk. If people can’t trust you to watch out for your best interests then what would make you think they would consider for a second looking out for you or the company’s best interests?
Leadership is perhaps the most important element in creating a safer workplace. We don’t talk about it much, but beyond physical safety, don’t organizations have a vested interest in providing more than just physical safety. What about emotional safety—the safety where you are free from worrying about losing his job, or where you don’t feel that you can be frank with your boss without repercussions? Or the safety of having your boss stand up for you and defend you from unfounded attacks instead of throwing you under the boss? In other words, doesn’t an organization have the responsibility to respect and value its employees enough so that the employees work for more than a paycheck?
If your boss isn’t looking out for you, how can that boss expect you to do anything more than to look out for your own interests? Too many leaders in too many organizations are stuck in a 1982 mentality where the economy was so poor that if workers didn’t like the job they had the very real decision as to whether or not to quit and risk not being able to find another job or just stay in a toxic work environment and put up with the crap.
In military conflicts, there is the concept of “fragging”. Typically fragging refers to deliberately killing an officer or leader while in a firefight so that it looks like an accident. Why do troops kill their own leaders? Self-preservation; the troops come to believe that the only way to survive is to kill off the ineffectual leader. The troops lose confidence and respect for the leader and for a few, they see this as the only way out of harm’s way.
So what is the equivalent of fragging a leader in the corporate world? Well, actually there are more than one equivalent. One is to undermine your boss’s decisions by second-guessing him or her at every step. Another is to poison the well through gossip and innuendo. I once worked for a completely and utterly incompetent boss who would give ridiculous direction that was truly detrimental to the company. Here is how the staff followed her instructions. One was completely passive-aggressive, making her second guess every bit of
How does respect work? It’s not a trick question. Respect is, in my opinion, one of the key elements in engagement, and by extension, a key element in safety. It’s tough to be engaged in your work when you are treated with contempt and you know by the way you are treated that your boss or your colleagues don’t respect you.
Recently a friend confided in me that he told his boss that he believed that he was not treated with respect by him. “Respect has to be earned” he snarled back. My friend is literally weeks from retirement with a full pension and is probably a little looser with his language than someone more junior. He responded, “You have that backward. The way I was raised is that you respect people until they say or do things to you that takes away a measure of that respect. I have been respectful to you, but for whatever reason, you seem to believe that I have to give you a cause to respect and value me.
So there you have it: some people believe that you don’t have to value or respect someone unless they earn it and others believe we should respect people based on their humanity. I happen to believe we should be respectful to people until they show themselves unworthy of that respect.
The funny thing about respect and value is that you don’t have to VERBALLY tell someone that you respect them. The way you feel about someone is pretty difficult to conceal, and if you don’t value and respect someone telling them that you do makes you a hypocrite. So what does all this have to do with safety? A lot. If your supervisor makes you feel like your opinions don’t matter, that you’re too stupid to contribute anything important, or generally treats you like something he scraped off the bottom of his shoe, it makes it tough to focus on your work. And when you aren’t focusing on your work you are more likely to be injured or to injure a coworker.
I’ve said it so many times that I feel like I am getting blue in the face. While it is important for safety personnel to respect the population for which they are advocates, it is far more important that the executives, partners, department managers, and line managers respect the workers. Little slights, like telling someone to shut up, whether you use those exact words, or marginalize an employee by scheduling meetings and then canceling or rescheduling them, or failing to follow up on an issue, or just plain ignoring the employee. All of these things are disrespectful and demonstrate that you don’t value the employee.
When it comes to valuing an employee it should be pretty simple, after all, you must have seen some value in him when you hired him, right? At what point did you take it for granted that this person would just come in and do his job and be happy with the paycheck.
So what does this have to do with lowering injuries in your organization? Everything. Think of the damage the disrespected employee can do to your organization? Everything from absenteeism to out-and-out sabotage is often rooted in an employee’s opinion of his or her boss and the relationship the employee has with the employer as a whole. But beyond everything, who cares what their bosses think when their bosses have no regard for the person as an individual?
How many of us working in safety get push-back from workers who say, “This company doesn’t give a hot, runny, steaming, pile, of goose crap about my safety? What would motivate them to feel that way, much less say it? Most of us working in safety care about the safety of the workers and most that I have seen have a great rapport with the safety group, so where is this coming from? Leaders. Leaders who belittle. Leaders who think that because they are white-collar workers that they are somehow better and of greater value than the “great unwashed” or whatever name they give to those they perceive to be their intellectual inferiors.
This is no great revelation that incompetent and indifferent leaders make the job of the safety personnel more difficult—hell we feel it more acutely than anyone. How anyone can respond to “my boss doesn’t care if I live or I die” with a straight face when we know that what the worker is saying is true?
WARNING: What follows may just teach you something but you won’t get any CEUs for it, you’ll just be better educated and informed but seriously who wants or needs that?
Some time ago, I read an article in the Metro Times (a Detroit Weekly) about a Facebook group essentially dedicated to encouraging attacks on women, Democrats, Muslims, and LGBTQ persons. There were hundreds of specific threats of violence. You don’t have to buy my book, but I wish you would. But if you want to help follow this link. Search LinkedIn to find out where these people work and encourage their employers to fire them. This isn’t a political statement, I would react the same way if people were saying that White Heterosexual Christian Men were the targets. Purveyors of hate need to feel real-world consequences. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good to do nothing.
Violent acts begin with violent thoughts that turn into violent posts on social media. How long are you going to continue to throw your hands up and say, “what can I do?” My second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. answers this question. This is all new material that cannot be found anywhere else. In light of all the talk and panic around gun violence, and the shamefully bad advice some “experts” are giving I hope some of you will read it and pass it along to your executives and HR leads (go ahead, expense it, they will be glad you did.)
Before you dismiss this as yet another shameless plug for my book I want you to ask yourself these questions:
- What if anything is my employer doing to reduce its risk of a workplace attack?
- Do the people who are doing the hiring at my workplace know the warning signs of a workplace attack?
- What can I do to prevent workplace violence?
I should warn you, this isn’t a book that is pro- or anti-gun ownership rights. The book has extensive sections on spotting an unstable employee (some people’s lives will take a dark and desperate turn long after you have hired them but there are always signs), the types of work environments that tend to trigger these events, and I recently returned from Dublin, Ireland where I spoke on how companies can leverage technology to protect workers from workplace violence. But all the books, and magazines, and speeches in the world won’t change a damned thing if you keep thinking that it can’t (or probably won’t) happen to you or someone you love. You can bet your life that we will see more similar shootings in the weeks or months as people who are currently at the brink of sanity see the news reports and think, “now’s the time”. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!! This book is peppered with the sarcasm, self-deprecating humor of the first book, but it also makes use of my extensive knowledge of violence prevention in the workforce (that I gained as head of training and OD for a global manufacturer.) You should buy it. Seriously I’m not telling you how to live your life but you should buy it. Okay, I AM telling you how to live your life, just buy the damned book.
Of course, my first book is still for sale, and is ALSO available in the eBook format you might rightly ask yourself, why on God’s green Earth would I read a book that contains previously released material? Simple, like the rain-forest and the polar bears my work is disappearing from the web very quickly. All but a handful of my works for Facility Management Magazine are gone, and you can basically only go back two years on my blog (eight year’s worth of my work that ranges in quality from magnificent to mindless dreck.) And besides, about a third of the book is newly written material that cannot be found anywhere else. So buy it. People who have read it say that it belongs in everyone who works in safety’s library. It will teach you, entertain you, and make you want to read more it can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Noble.com.
As always, Read. Learn. Live. Share. Inspire