Safety First

When I worked in hospice, patient and staff safety were a top priority. Assessing hazards and potential dangers were part of the job. We carried our PPE (personal protective equipment) everywhere we went and were trained to look for fire alarms and hand railings along with cognitive impairment and unsteady gaits.

In high tech, the number of warnings outside the labs makes an outsider like me hesitant to enter. Chemical burns, heavy equipment, and Jedi-strength lasers await the careless. Employee safety is serious business. An accident behind those doors can be deadly.

The occupational hazards faced are largely dictated by the sort of work we do, but the physical risks aren't the only ones that present a danger; they're just easier to prevent. What about the emotional safety hazards at work? Having a colleague throw you under the bus in front of all your peers hurts; the injuries are less obvious than stepping in front of a Greyhound, but they're just as real. Getting chewed out by a superior or stabbed in the back registers threat in the brain akin to being held at gunpoint.  Fear is fear.

Fight, flight or freeze are the hard-wired responses. Threat is not always so aggressive, so obvious. Neglect threatens our safety as much as abuse. Being ignored. Being avoided. Being left out of the loop. All these experiences jeopardize trust and damage the bonds required of coworkers and teams. We're mammals; bonding is in our nature.If companies are committing to safety practices, why stop at physical safety? If we go with the hypothesis, "Morale and job satisfaction are correlated to productivity and success," employers need to pay equal attention to emotional safety hazards.

I propose a campaign that places warnings like these in conference rooms and common work spaces: Trust is central to successful teams. It's a hard thing to measure, but you can assess it with these three questions:

  • Do I feel safe?

  • Do I feel engaged?

  • Do I feel positive?

Safety first.

What is the consequence of failure? What are the dangers of speaking up? Are you allowed to take risks? Do you feel heard and seen? How are people's ideas and opinions respected? How are people treated?

It's sequential. I need to feel safe in order to engage. And if I am free to engage (and respected for my contribution), I will feel positive about my job and my team. It all falls apart without emotional safety. Please post your signs in the comment section or on the FB page.