I recently read a blog post (http://sethgodin.typepad.com) titled “Do you want our apathy?” I think the author may have been speaking to business founders or entrepreneurs who have perhaps drifted to poor customer service or have started to neglect the customer. He asked the question in the title and then listed actions people could take to create apathy. I think anyone in the management field can learn excellent lessons from this list because in a way employees may be seen as customers. Additionally, we may also examine the possibilities from a safety management perspective and ways apathy may develop within worker ranks.
Here are some potential ways supervisors, managers, and leaders may experience apathy from employees:
- Requests for assistance when it comes to making employees’ jobs better or safer are ignored.
- When employees offer advice for how safety could be improved managers become defensive, perhaps because they may feel their jobs are threatened.
- When efforts are made to simplify safety so much that hazard corrective actions are no longer effective at reducing risk to acceptable levels.
- When employees are treated like they are not the most important part of the organization.
- When employees are told how busy management is and that management will get back to them later when they have time to address employee safety concerns.
- When employees stop coming to management with requests for safety assistance or ways to help make their jobs better or easier, management seems unconcerned.
- When the number one safety goal becomes achieving compliance targets rather than making dramatic improvements at risk reduction.
Sure this list could be longer. There are many ways to create apathy among employees. One way to fight this tendency is to try to remember that employees are the most important part of the system. Even with automated systems it takes employees to run them. Even with highly specified tasks that have little variation, there can still be a degree of socio-technical risk involved when the organization faces pressure and must adapt. Employees must adapt as well and during adaptation new risks may emerge. It is not feasible to rely on the “we have always done it this way before so it must be safe” mentality. Employees are often some of the best sources of hazard information. If that is true, then management should strive to create an environment that promotes employee engagement in safety processes that strive to go beyond compliance and to really address the hazards and risks faced by employees at the “sharp end” where high-hazard work is often performed. Sometimes the simple act of listening to employees, addressing their concerns in an empathetic way, and providing feedback on what is possible in the short term, as well as long-term feedback to demonstrate how their input made the workplace better may go a long way to help with employee involvement.