Safety in the workplace is a real concern for employees and employers alike. While tempting to sweep larger issues into a category of “that could never happen here,” thus creating a taboo around sensitive subjects, it does little to ease employees’ minds. Especially after tragic workplace events occur, employers should proactively address fears and concerns by implementing a training program to help direct the conversation, thus giving support to both physical and emotional safety at work.
As leaders, our people look to us to address such topics in a timely, sensitive manner, doing what we can to make safety trainings useful, insightful, and confidence- and team-building experiences. Executives and safety leaders need to work in tandem to create programs that approach these topics gently, yet effectively.
For employees to feel positive about the safety of their workplaces and get the most out of safety trainings, employers need to:
- Be transparent about communicating real concerns
- Be especially sensitive to considering the different life experiences employees may have before approaching the topic
- Provide people with additional resources to ensure their safety beyond the training.
Share Your Why
Addressing the need for safety training can present real challenges for HR teams and other business leaders, but being transparent in your reasoning ensures that employees are more receptive to the proposed program. For instance, after recent workplace and school shootings, my company identified a need for active shooter training. This was not a tactical training with simulations, but rather a conversation about best practices and what experts have determined as the best course of action. Once our people understood the logic behind a proven, preferred course of action during such an event (e.g., run, hide, fight) they felt more empowered to know what to do in such a scenario.
We made it clear to concerned employees that these trainings were not the result of any type of threat, but that we cared about their well-being and wanted to empower them with the tools they need to be better prepared in case of an emergency.
It’s unrealistic to shield employees from widespread coverage of tragic events, but establishing best practices for prevention is essential to helping ensure employees’ emotional safety and well-being. We asked employees to keep an eye out for each other; to speak up. We talked about warning signs — major life events, erratic behavior, threats and so on. And we made it clear to our team members that they were not in danger, but that we cared for their well-being and these trainings were paramount to building a prepared and knowledgeable workforce.
Show That You Care
Employees come from all walks of life and have varied personal experiences, so it’s important to consider these differences when building a program around sensitive topics. Thinking about holding a self-defense class for the women in your office? It may be beneficial to know if your female employees have had negative experiences in the past that may affect their ability to engage with the training. Sometimes a training program that directly relates to a serious tragedy elicits strong emotional responses, so employers should be prepared for and sensitive to employees who feel compelled to share personal experiences.
I was enlightened by a conversation with an employee who was the victim of a particularly violent assault. She let me know that talking about a workplace incident paralyzed her, and that if anything were to happen she would likely need additional assistance to get out of the building. That was helpful for me to know; I was honored she would share that experience with me and we both feel safer now knowing what each other will need to get through that type of incident should it ever occur.
To fully understand the various backgrounds that employees bring to the table, a company culture that emphasizes the importance of co-worker relationships needs to be established first. Employees should feel comfortable sharing their personal information with co-workers and supervisors when it needs to be addressed. If they don’t feel that their concerns will be heard and carefully considered, they likely won’t be responsive to trainings.
An additional measure employers and HR professionals can take to ensure employees feel comfortable during training is to hold multiple trainings in intimate, small groups in which employees are surrounded by people they already know and trust. Bringing in an outside expert may sometimes seem like the best route to take, but employees are more willing to listen to people with whom they have already established a strong relationship. Consider obtaining expert opinions and guidance separately that can later be conveyed to junior-level employees from familiar executives and HR personnel.
Show Available Resources
Employers should have a system in place to ensure workplace safety beyond trainings. For example, my company has established a special employee emergency fund called Tanner Cares. It’s designed to help employees get through difficult or dangerous situations by providing financial means to those who may not have the resources to do so on their own. While this crisis fund is unique to O.C. Tanner, many other employers have adopted anonymous reporting hotlines, employee assistance programs and even on-site counseling to give employees the tools they need to avoid and heal from crisis situations.
Having resources readily available for employees not only gives them a way to resolve bigger issues, but it shows that the company cares enough to ensure employees’ needs are being met beyond the workplace. Oftentimes, employees may feel that HR is only looking out for the company. Providing them with valuable resources to get additional help if they need it conveys the message that HR is there to enable the healthy lives of its employees so the company functions to the best of its ability.
We can’t change history, nor can we remove tragedy from employees’ lives. But with careful planning, empathetic listening and offering employees the tools they need to be safe, we can make a better future for our teams and prepare them for all types of emergency situations. When done thoughtfully, giving employees emergency training can be incredibly beneficial, leading to stronger internal relationships and a more informed, confident and focused workforce.
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