There are countless ways to ensure that your work environment is physically safe for employees, but it’s much harder to tackle emotional and mental safety. It isn’t just as easy as telling employees that you’re there for them.
Creating a safe and positive work environment for employees is a deep and complex task, but one that is incredibly worth it. Employees who work in a supportive environment are happier, more productive, more efficient, more efficacious, less burnt out, work better with coworkers, and just enjoy their job more in general.
A work environment can be all the difference an employee needs in order to go from counting down the hours until they can go home to the day slipping by without them noticing.
What is a safe work environment?
A work environment that’s psychologically safe for employees is one in which they are:
- Both emotionally and physically safe.
This means that employees must feel that:
- There is no threat to them because of their age, gender, race, sexuality, or any other aspect of their person
- They have HR or someone to talk to in order to solve any problems that they have
- They can speak to their managers about their workload, about issues they have completing tasks, or any other topics
- They can collaborate with their coworkers with ease
A safe work environment manifests as employees that are happy working there, without any bullying or intimidation. In such an environment, you’ll be able to tell that your workplace is collaborative, positive, and pleasant. Everyone has the right to feel safe and comfortable in their workplace.
Aspects of workplace culture that make employees feel safe and valued
The most important parts of the workplace that really make a difference to workplace culture are:
1. Manager approachability and accessibility
The main point of contact for employees when they need guidance, clarification, or information is their manager(s). This is why manager approachability and accessibility are some of the most impactful factors in the journey to a safe workplace.
Employees must feel like they can always talk to their managers. Managers must take care to avoid being condescending, rude, or impatient with their team both verbally and nonverbally. They have to be able to communicate well, be professional and supportive, and never turn their team away.
Additionally, employees must know how they can get in touch with their managers and be able to do so easily.
2. HR accessibility and dependability
HR is the bridge between employers and employees. It’s imperative that employees know exactly how to get in touch with HR and know that HR will always have their back. If an issue comes up where the employee is in the wrong, then HR has to be able to communicate this effectively without hurting the employee’s feelings and making any party out to be the villain.
3. How bullying, intimidation, and harassment are dealt with
Employees spend most of their time during work with their coworkers. They need to feel comfortable talking to their peers and know that if any issues come up, they will be taken and dealt with seriously and swiftly.
It’s important to put in training programs for sexual and racial harassment and discrimination to ensure that employees are aware of their actions. Equally, there must be guidelines to follow that clearly state what the penalties for this behavior are. These penalties must be adhered to without exception.
4. New hire treatment
New hires’ experiences when they first join a company are paramount to how comfortable they will go on to feel during their time at that company. The onboarding experience must give enough information so that the new hire knows where to go and who to go to when they need help (but not too much information that they feel overwhelmed).
The best way to do this is to warmly welcome them and give them just one person to direct all of their questions at until they integrate into the company a bit more so that they feel like they have a friend who is right by their side. If not, they could feel that they’ve been tossed into the company headfirst and will struggle to speak to their managers and/or HR right away.
They also need:
- To be properly introduced to their team and company culture
- All of the necessary tools (both software and office tools like laptops, desks, etc.)
- Expectations and goals set specifically for their role and clearly defined success metrics
- To be told about opportunities for growth
Some non-obvious changes to make
It can seem daunting to take on the task of making a workplace feel safer for employees. Here are some easy changes to implement that will make a big impact.
1. Clear guidelines
The only way that employees will ever know how to behave, how to respond to a situation, and what to do for help, guidance, and justice after an incident happens is for there to be clear guidelines.
Set down clear guidelines for who to speak to, how to reach them, and how to go about making complaints or requests. There can be formal and informal versions of these guidelines, such as handbooks and verbal deliveries. It’s important that employees feel they can speak to their managers and/or HR, whether by making a formal complaint or by speaking to them first and weighing their options.
2. Follow through
If employees come to you for help and then there isn’t any action taken, then there may as well be no guidelines. In this instance, there isn’t any justice, support, or information. You’ve done nothing. Whatever the guidelines dictate, you must follow through – it doesn’t matter how high up the person being complained about is, or how new the hire who complained is. You must always follow through with complaints and queries.
3. Practice what you preach
Leaders, HR reps, and managers must all walk the talk. You have to lead by example to influence company culture; this includes listening whenever an employee has a problem, taking swift and decisive action upon hearing the problem, and making sure that everyone in the workplace is being respectful and tolerant of each other.
4. Let everyone have a voice
Everyone in the company should be able to speak their mind. Create an ongoing dialogue with employees by giving them opportunities for voicing their feedback. The easiest and least disruptive way to do this is via surveys with a mix of qualitative and quantitative questions which employees can fill out in their own time.
A workplace for everyone
With this information and these changes, hopefully you’ll have some ideas to consider when you tweak your workplace. People deserve to feel safe throughout their lives, but especially at work where they spend so much of their lives and put in so much effort. Every workplace should be a workplace for everyone, not just those in power – that’s what we must work toward.