Why an Empathetic Leadership Approach Is the Key to Safety Management
12 July 2023 - Evotix
An empathetic leadership approach in the workplace is no longer a “nice-to-have,” it’s a crucial component to achieving safe operations and fostering a culture of strong engagement and well-being.
Catalyst surveyed 900 employees and found that empathetic leadership fosters an engaged, motivated and productive workforce. 86% of those surveyed reported feeling more successful balancing work and life concerns under a leader who demonstrates empathy.
But how does empathetic leadership impact the world of health and safety? In this post, we’ll discuss how empathy at the center of safety management can increase your influence across the organization.
Empathy at work
Often described as placing yourself in ‘someone else’s shoes,’ empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings and see things through their perspective.
Empathy is an invaluable skill for managers to possess. Besides helping you forge a stronger connection with employees, it enhances your leadership skills as you better understand how your actions impact team members. This makes you more likely to consider the different perspectives of employees when enforcing and communicating specific rules.
The weight empathy carries in safety management is actually outlined in specific health and safety standards, such as ISO 45003:2021. Guidelines for dealing with workers’ various psychological responses to the safety management system they’re working alongside identify a close link between empathy and effective operations forming strong inter-team relationships.
OSHA requirement [1910.30(d)] also suggests employers provide training “using language and vocabulary that is understood by employees,” placing an emphasis on the importance of leaders thinking critically about how their instructions are interpreted, rather than simply giving out orders to team members.
The benefits of leading through empathy
There’s a whole host of benefits when it comes to weaving empathy into your health and safety management program. These include:
Enhanced lines of communication
Because you’ll grow more conscious of the person or team you’re interacting with at any given moment, you’ll become increasingly competent at adapting the way in which you communicate. For example, you may use a gentle, friendly tone when speaking to an employee who’s been involved in a distressing situation and a more formal, solemn tone when going over health and safety insights in a senior management meeting.
By making a visible effort to view situations from the perspective of your team members, you’re more likely to strengthen your working relationships with a foundation of trust. When it comes to health and safety, fostering this trust is key, as it’ll create an environment where employees feel comfortable coming forward with safety-related concerns. They’ll feel confident that you’ll really listen, take what they have to say seriously and actively make the required adjustments to ensure they consistently feel safe when carrying out tasks.
Increased productivity and profitability
When you break it down, employees spend most of their lives at work, so their attitude toward your organization will have a pretty hefty impact on overall morale and productivity. Research shows the more you demonstrate that you understand your employees’ needs, the more motivated they’ll be to work hard, enhancing productivity and, consequently, boosting profitability.
Open door to creative solutions
Thinking empathetically can also open the door to more creative thinking. A lack of employee engagement with health and safety tends to pose a big challenge across various organizations. If you were to approach this difficulty with a mindset that considers how different employees take in information or react to training, you would be providing more mental space for coming up with creative solutions that tailor training to employees’ many different learning styles and needs.
How to be a more empathetic health and safety manager
There are many ways to incorporate empathy into your health and safety management strategy. A few examples include:
Creating a safety committee
Create a committee that provides a safe space for employees to discuss your organization’s health and safety regulations and make recommendations. Rather than simply saying that you’ll listen to your employees concerns, this space for them holds your organization accountable for taking action against risks as they arise and gives them a voice.
Carrying out regular hazard analyses
Frequently conducting hazard analyses across different areas of the business is another great way to show you’re empathetic to the needs of your team. By taking the time to move through various areas of the business and ask employees about the hazards currently at the forefront of their minds, you can gain a deeper understanding of the main areas to focus on in your health and safety strategy.
Placing such a focus on this will also demonstrate your dedication to managing incidents proactively and keeping your employees as safe and happy as possible.
Emphasizing that enforcing rules is your way of showing you care
It’s also important that you ensure employees understand the reason why you enforce health and safety rules in the first place. Far from being a box-ticking exercise, health and safety rules are in place so you can actively value your employees and their right to not only feel safe at work, but also come home from work safely every day.
By taking the time to communicate this, you’re more likely to bring about a situation where employees feel motivated to follow the rules. This compliance will come from a place of mutual understanding that the regulations are in place for their benefit.
Honing in on mental health
Beyond ensuring your employees are physically safe, placing empathy at the center of your management plan means checking in with employees to ensure they feel mentally fit to work. Monitor the amount of work they’re doing to ensure no one is overworked or left stressed.
You can also develop a process that ensures aftercare for any employees involved in or that have witnessed distressing incidents, including offering counselling or even just a private chat with you about their worries. Ensure they know that the door is always open.
Empathy is a powerful tool to engaging employees in health and safety. To learn more about how effective health and safety leadership can engage your staff, check out our article: Rules of Engagement
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