When we hear “safety first,” we might think of children looking both ways before crossing the street, or workers donning hardhats at a construction zone. Or, perhaps, we think of seatbelts, lifejackets, or electrical outlet covers. But do we ever pause to consider workplace safety?
Unless you work in a warehouse or in the trades, I’m guessing “safety” is not a word that crosses your mind too often. However, it’s vital for your people to feel safe—not just in a physical sense, but also in an emotional and psychological sense as well. If a worker doesn’t feel safe presenting their ideas (perhaps out of fear of retaliation or silencing), they’ll stay quiet. If someone doesn’t feel safe being themselves, they will hide part of who they are. If a parent is afraid of retaliation for taking time off, they’ll skip their kid’s soccer game or awards ceremony. If someone is fearful of lodging a complaint, they likely won’t do it.
On the other hand, when people feel safe, secure, and supported, they are more likely to share ideas, get creative, and help one another. Research also shows that creating safe spaces for employees can significantly reduce turnover and increase productivity.
How can you create a safe environment for your people? Here are five ideas.
Create Inclusive Spaces
Does your workplace welcome all people in its physical spaces? When walking into a room—whether a conference room, a restroom, an office, or a cafeteria—think about the various people who might use it. Does the space accommodate people of all abilities? (For example, is a conference table or desk wheelchair accessible?) Does the space welcome people of all identities? (Does your building have gender-neutral restrooms?) Are everyone’s needs being met? (Do breastfeeding mothers have a private, clean place to pump?) Practice empathy and ask for feedback from others to determine if your workplace’s physical spaces are working for everyone.
Encourage Open Communication
If people experience retaliation for expressing their opinions or speaking out, they will be more likely to keep things to themselves next time they have a problem. The last thing you want is to create a culture of silence. Encourage open communication by fostering an environment where all voices are heard and respected. Implement channels for anonymous feedback to provide a safe outlet for employees to express their concerns. To promote open dialogue and discussion, you can also regularly hold team meetings or town halls in which all people have a chance to speak. Make it clear that feedback is valued and there are no negative consequences for speaking up.
Establish a Non-Discriminatory Culture
Beyond creating welcoming physical spaces, it is important to establish a culture of inclusivity. That means committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, making sure company policies and practices are DEI-centered, and providing learning opportunities for employees. It also means addressing any instances of discrimination promptly and taking appropriate disciplinary action.
Promote Mentorships and ERGs
We all want to be understood and respected, and sometimes that means engaging in conversations with people who share something in common with us. Promoting mentorship programs and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can foster these connections and provide a safe space for employees to connect with others who share similar experiences or identities. Mentorship programs pair employees with more experienced individuals who can provide guidance and support. ERGs are groups within an organization that focus on specific communities or interests, providing a platform for networking, shared experiences, and support.
Invest in Mental Health Support
Creating a safe space also involves prioritizing mental health and well-being. Offer resources and support for employees to seek help when needed. This can include providing access to counseling services, promoting mental health awareness and education, and implementing policies that support work-life balance. Encourage a culture that destigmatizes seeking help for mental health issues and promotes mental wellbeing.
It is difficult for employees to be happy and productive if they do not feel safe and secure in the workplace. To meet your people’s needs, it is crucial to put yourself in their shoes and regularly ask for feedback. Even if the workplace feels safe and welcoming to some people, others may feel differently. It’s time we extend the “safety first” maxim to the workplace.