Preventing and Overcoming Burnout

Have you ever been in a work position where only absolute perfection was accepted? Yeah, I have been too in both a safety role and in other positions. 

 

This is both the requirement for success, the punishment for failure, and the fast track to burnout.  As people, we can only handle this type of strain/stress for so long. In short bursts where it is needed, we can perform at that high level. When it becomes the all time standard with no deviation, we lose the motivation or we lose ourselves. It was once described to me as “if everything is that important, then nothing is important.”

 

This is a tough place to be for anyone. You need a job, but your job is also causing undue amounts of personal strain.In cases such as these, there are a few things that you can do. 

 

  1. Start the job hunt. The market is rich for safety professionals now. We are in a fortunate position that our work is needed, and there is work available. 
  2. Baseline the expectations. I remember a time where there was a weekly performance call. It never mattered how well you performed, you were going to be told how bad of an employee you really were. Someone new joined the meeting one day and asked me what the expectations of the call was. My answer . .  pain! I had baselined the entire process to know that the point was to be told all the things wrong. Once I understood the true intent of the call, I could create an internal baseline to overcome the pressure
  3. Find a peer group. Talking to co-workers who you trust about the situation. Sometimes, it helps to commiserate with people who are in the same situation as yourself.
  4. Don’t give up. Our work affects so much more than ourselves. The situation may be bad. Keep going and know you are helping to protect our teams. Keep good records and take lots of notes. Focus on what is most important, protecting our people, environment, and communities.

 

This applies to many in the workplace, but I like to think as safety as a unique position. We need the ability to be problem solvers and not have fear of failure. The desire for improvement and flexibility to adapt to the culture and behaviors of the workplace is what makes our roles so vital to the overall health of an organization. If the constant expectation is perfection with a dose of punishment, the limitation placed on the position becomes unmanageable and unproductive.

 

Overall, know that your work is important and that change is the only constant in business.

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One Simple Improvement for Safety Training

Mind blowing idea: Not all training is created equal

 

You probably already knew that, though.

 

Imagine a simple idea that would lead to better employee engagement, improved training, and safer behaviors. Sadly, it is a commonly overlooked aspect of health and safety training. The answer is to let people know they are receiving training that is for their safety.

 

I am a huge fan of the research conducted by Dr. Kristina M. Zierold. Some of the works focus on the young workforce as they enter into the labor market for the first time. They receive training, usually on-the-job-training. They are told these are the ways things should be done. But there is no distinguishing the safety aspects of the training from just the way to do the job. In some cases, there is no safety training at all. That, though, is for another time.

 

So, imagine entering the workplace for the first time. You are given training that is based on the work that you are doing. This is not a bad thing. It helps in building real world cognitive learning of how to perform the job. But, there is not distinguishing what parts of the job are there to protect you, what parts of the job are to help in quality to the customer, or what parts of the training impact other functions. This is where things get sticky.

 

Safety is not an inherent trait. Safety is something that is learned and observed. With later generations not as much working manual labor at home, being part of shop classes, working on farms, etc. there is a loss of that “common sense” approach to knowing safe from unsafe. As they enter the workplace there then has to be a focus on teaching safety.

 

For someone new to the workplace, safety systems and protections can appear to slow work down or even seem cumbersome if one does not understand why they are doing it. For a new employee if they do not know it is a safety system, then it is something that could be ignored. They may hear the talk that safety is the most important thing they do every day, and that may very well be true. The trouble is that if they do not know that something is in place for their personal health and safety, then how do they know that they need to always use it.

 

That is why it is absolutely critical that when training is conducted, the safety features are pointed out. The trainer has a very important role is setting the new employee up for success not only productively but in creating that first feeling of the safety climate. In some places, the standard work can be posted right in front of the workstation. The safety items can be highlighted in green or have a green cross beside those important protective steps. They still need to be trained, educated, and understand why it is a safety feature.

 

How do we make our safety training more effective? Make sure that as we conduct the training, we communicate effectively the procedures, processes, equipment, and PPE that is place to help protect our employees. Safety training has to exclusively dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our team.

When Your Safety System is not a System

There are times where a company will seek to implement a safety program. They will create all the necessary programs, procedures, meetings, audits, employee committees, and many other processes that they feel have made other companies successful in safety. They will even brand all the programs as their safety management system or process. The trouble, though, is creating the linkages that actually makes the safety system functional. Just having all the parts of a system, does not make it work.

 

A functional and successful safety program actually needs to be a system of components that work with each other and communicate effectively across one another. Imagine a human body with no nervous system. It has everything it needs to be alive and working, but there is nothing that makes everything work together. There is no harmony. There is no communication.

Slide1

The model provided is not extensive map of everything that makes up a safety system but is a representation of how everything needs to interact in a way that is functional. Each piece is equal to one another and has to complete a communication loop with all the other functional systems. It is the safety management system itself that acts as the bond between the items.

 

The idea of a safety management system is quite ethereal in talk, but exceptionally valuable and tangible in practice. I have personally seen organizations that have all the components of a safety management process but the system was not there. Auditors would come in, see all the pieces, and yet feel there was something just out of their grasp that was not right. Here is my shameless plug: This is where an experienced safety professional is invaluable to an organization. They are the ones that personify the system in action. They create those communication bridges and help make the system functional.

 

So what are some of the ways that safety management systems fail to function? I am glad you asked:

  • Lost in translation: The management system is the great interpreter of the all the parts. The Emergency Response Plan has to be able to talk to the Management Review in a language that they both understand. I remember early when the ADAAA was enacted. The workers compensation laws were affected. The idea was that if there was a job that a restricted employee could perform, the organization would make an “offer” for the temporary position. This created quite the confusion with the HR team on their version of job offer. There had to be someone to help each understand the other. With that idea in mind, does your safety management system help to allow each part be understood by the other?
  • They just don’t talk anymore: Each part has to communicate with the other. Does the change management program ever talk to your KPIs? If so, how? The best way is to map it out. Take each part of your management system and make a grid across the top and bottom. In each intersection there should be some methods or process that facilitates communication between each item. This can be a time consuming project, but it is exceptionally revealing in the functionality of the system.
  • There is no feedback: Communication is a two-way street. One part of the whole cannot simply dictate to the other. They have to be giving feedback to one another and improving from that communication.

 

A safety management system is vitally important to the overall health of the safety programs. Unfortunately, there are times where that system can cease to function effectively. When a situation arises where it seems that everything is in place but something does not feel right; take a moment to assure that your system is communicating.

The Evolution of Safety Auditing

There are many ways that safety programs are audited and evaluated. There are some that are internal to the organization or site and there are others that are used external. Some companies use the idea of intra-site auditing where safety people from other sites perform a documented audit on another site. Year-over-year there are rotations among all the sites. The other choice is the organization chooses to hire an external auditor on a contract to perform these evaluations. There are also opportunities to leverage the organization’s loss prevention or insurance company to assist with performing or coordinating audits.

As a safety professional, it is easy to enter a site an find multiple unsafe behaviors or conditions. From a strictly technical standpoint, there are always opportunities for improvement. The reason an audit should be conducted is to get an idea of where the total compliance attitude sits on the organizational scale. Getting lost in the trees and forgetting that the forrest exists does not create benefit.

Regardless of how an audit is performed, there are some basic items about an audit that gives indications about the performance of the audit team, the site behavior, and the organizational culture. I have created a scaled list of how an audit should give insight to the organizational compliance.

Poor performance = few findings. High complexity

When a site is still developing the audit should be focused on big ticket items like: creating a lockout program, training employees on hazard communication, performing personal protective equipment surveys, and creating written programs. Inundating the site with lists and lists of detailed items is not helpful in this phase. They should be focused on simply developing programs. It is the idea that something is better than nothing. The natural cycle of continuous improvement will help the details become addressed.

Medium Performance = high findings, low complexity

When a site has become the typical performing organization, the transition begins to see more punch list style items. Depending on the overall performance of the site, this will drive the number of those items. The major items of program creation are gone. In their place is a list of items that need to be completed to enhance compliance such as labeling specific bottles, updating placards, and

Good performance = Few findings, low complexity

One of the best auditors I know has three categories of findings that he creates as part of his process:

Nonconformities are findings where the program is not implemented or not followed

Deficiencies are where the program is in place but there are elements that are not up to the standard

Opportunities for Improvement are where the auditor finds ways that the program can be improved and is fully in compliance.

A good performing plant will be mostly focused on the opportunities for improvement. The complexity will be low, there will be minimal findings, and the goal is to keep the momentum rolling. The site has many good aspects of the program, but even a good program can go bad if it does not seek continuous improvement.

Overall, the process of auditing is value added when it is properly scoped, controlled, and helps create improvement in the process. The sake of auditing for auditing sake is overall a losing prospect. The audit program should have a governing policy and process that should be followed. There should be a defined outcome and mission statement for the audit. It is through planning and a focus on improvement that the audit program brings true value to a safety organization.

Safety: Behavior or Motivation

I was recently at my final residency. Part of this process was to complete my dissertation research plan. The discussion around my topic about safety was talking about the theory behind the process of safety psychology.

 
On a complete side note, I did learn that with a qualitative research plan the theory is really something that gets built into the process as the research is conducted and not as a basis like quantitative research.

 
Back on topic: One of the discussions in my group was if I was studying behavior or if I was studying motivation. This whole discussion turned my thoughts upside down. Since I first began in safety over twelve years ago, I have been told that changing people’s behaviors was the ultimate goal of the safety professional. What if for all this time, I really should have been seeking to create motivation not change behavior. Mind blown!

 
With this new way of looking at how safety should be integrated into a organizational culture, it begins with the most simple thought: why do people need motivation to be safe? The over simplified answer is that going home whole should be enough motivation for anyone. Yet national statistics show that there are still 4,500 people a year that never go home to their families at the end of the work day. There are still too many people needing medical attention just by going to work. The real answer is much more complicated and infinitely more varied.

 
When evaluating motivation for safety, I personally subscribe to the Mazlow’s Hierarchy model. I feel this explanation fits the Occam’s Razor approach of being the most simplified and easiest to understand. The hierarchy shows that safety is the second key motivator of people. The first motivation is physiological: food, shelter, warmth, etc. In modern society, this need is met by having a job and affording a place to live and food to eat. So, the motivation for someone to have a job to meet their physiological need is greater than their motivation for safety. In my experience, this holds to be generally true.

Looking deeper at the motivation of the workplace, the comparison of the major metrics of business is safety, quality, delivery, and cost. Employee’s get very different messages when it comes to these and how they are motivated among them.
For example:

The site is able to have zero quality defects for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to meet all production targets for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to meet all cost metrcs for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to have zero safety incidents for a day = An expectation of the job
Another Example:

An employee misses their quality target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their production target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their cost target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their safety target = Probably nothing happens. They have found a work around to potentially help compensate for quality, production, or cost. They are seeking the most primal motivation of the physiological need.

Additionally with safety, the unsafe action statistically will not lead to an immediate injury. Someone could perform an unsafe act multiple times that would not lead to a direct injury. The more the act is performed, the more the individual becomes accepting of the risk. Ultimately though, risk will create a hazard and potentially an injury.

 
All that said to simply summarize that this whole time I have been wanting to change behaviors when really I need to be seeking to create motivation. As a safety professional or as a supervisor or as a manager, what can we do to create the motivation for our team to go home injury free? There is no simple answer. There is no silver bullet approach. Even though it is not all about behavior, there are cultural components and norm setting that has to occur to create that motivation for the team.

 
So here is a closing thought exercise: Look at the way your team is motivated and the systems that are in place to motivate, what behaviors and culture is it creating?

We are asking the questions, but do we care about the answers?

As part of many safety audits, there are times where employees and supervisors are brought together to answer questions about safety programs, experiences, and feelings. The process is to ask open ended questions to draw out the employees to talk about what they are witnessing and experiencing in the workplace. The goal of these audit protocols should be to help the sites leadership see from the outside what the culture and people on the inside are creating. 

This process is perceived as an outside group taking a true interest in the goals and feelings of the people at the site. So the real question from these audit processes is: If we are asking the right questions and getting the true answers; what are we doing with the data?

What happens if the findings are that the culture is broken and workforce is burned out? Is there blame assigned to the site or even worse to the HSE Manager? If the site is showing some real development with people and culture is the site rewarded and recognized? If there are real issues that come up that require resources or capital outside the sites ability, is the audit team helping support the work to get those resources allocated to the site?

Too many times (not only in audits) people are asked the questions, the data is collected, there is a presentation of the information, there are some short term exchanges on change and process, but there is not sustainable, culture focused, and appropriate solutions provided.  

What this is really about is if we are really ready to ask the questions. If the organization is ready to make the plunge and ask the culture questions, there has to be a method to address and create real solutions. As safety professionals, creating culture not only in the workforce but in the leadership and management is one of the greatest challenges. The answers are more important than the questions when it comes to building trust among the workforce. I once heard trust defined as empathy combined with action. The questions create a sense of empathy but the real challenge is turning that into action. And one could say that real empathy creates action. 

Creating a sense of trust in the workforce is one of the key components of Maslow’s hierarchy. Without trust, there is no basis for people to give the best. Without trust, there is no giving more than the minimal. Without trust, there is dysfunction to a higher degree. When we ask the questions and we act toward a solution, trust is created. We create a culture in which we can find solutions. We can create a culture where the questions are no longer as important as the issue are apparent as part of the dynamic continual improvement process. 

So when the audit comes to town, the questions are asked, and the answers are given; there must be a process to create solutions to the cultural needs. If the solutions are limited to a site or group and not evaluated on a inter-organizational level, there is a significant loss of sustainability and effectiveness.  

Nature and Nurture in Safety: Part 6

What happens when a person with a high tolerance for risk joins an organization that creates a culture of profit before safety?
Nature + Nurture = Outcome

Negative + Negative = Danger
A high tolerance for risk is not a bad personal trait. It is part of who that person is. The problem can occur with they are placed into an organization that has no priority for behavioral safety. Suddenly, the process to make the supervisor happy or to get accolades from the company is to get the job done faster, cheaper, and with fewer resources. This creates danger in its highest form. Imagine a company that chooses to save money through not performing training, chooses to no provide the tools that are needed to do the job safe,and chooses to push employees for more. In some cases that creates burnout and a complete lack of employee satisfaction. 

For those who lack the experience to know the expectations that should be in place for occupational safety this is a dangerous process and creates excessive and unnecessary risk. Again, defining safety nature as negative is not saying someone chooses to get hurt. It is simply a state of being, unknowing, or acceptance/tolerance of higher levels of risk. Once of the great dangers that of new workers. They have not been trained on the basic principles of occupational safety and so they are reliant on the company to provide that information. In the case of a company that has a negative safety culture, this set the stage for disastrous results.

Kristina Zierold of the University of Louisville has performed some really nice research on teenagers entering the workplace and the hazards associated with their work. In brief her work showed that teenagers when entering the workforce thought that any on-the-job training was the same as safety training. Much of the training was either observation of the job they were to perform or videos. This left teenagers in a risky situation without the knowledge that was needed to perform the work as safely as they could. This shows the risk that comes from not having a good safety nature and entering an organization that has a negative nature. 

It is necessary to provide the proper training to those as they enter the workforce and even as early as school. It is necessary to create a culture of safety as early as possible. Creating a natural safety personality is not really that natural. It comes through learning and experience.