Supporting a Culture of Caring Can Reduce Injuries and Costs, Improve Performance

Feb. 16, 2017
A senior vice president at an insurance company who is an expert in workers’ compensation insurance shares ways clients have reduced injuries, improved morale, saved money and increased production.

We recently worked with a company that was having problems getting its employees to use their personal protection equipment (PPE). We convinced management to change its message – which had been focused on penalties and reprimanding employees who ignored PPE – to one stressing that using PPE was in the workers’ best interest, for their own protection. The company even purchased nonslip shoes for all staff and required all workers, even management, to wear them. These actions literally stopped injuries due to slips and falls.

Another company reduced its insurance claims simply by buying lightweight garbage bags instead of heavyweight garbage bags. This eliminated employees from overloading bags and injuring their backs while lifting them. At a third company, we convinced upper-level management to become involved, to the point that the CEO actually attended the safety meetings and sent out periodic safety messages. The result was a much more engaged workforce and a huge reduction in claims.

What these cases all have in common is one distinct intangible; the employees could see and feel that management was invested in their safety and well-being. And in turn, the company was rewarded for this “culture of caring” that permeated the workplace by having more engaged workers, fewer work days lost to injuries, higher productivity and a reduction in insurance claims and premiums.

It is hard to dispute the success of a multi-billion dollar enterprise like Disney, but that success wasn’t strictly built on Mickey Mouse, Darth Vader, Iron Man and fairy godmothers. Disney always has stressed the importance of engaging employees at an emotional level. And by showing workers that the company genuinely cares for their wellbeing, Disney employees are willing to invest in their work. Ultimately, these efforts lead to increased employee effectiveness and improved business results.

How Do Employees Feel About the Organization?

What know that the culture of caring is not just about what you do for people; it is about how they feel about you and the organization. I am sure many employees appreciate benefits and services such as dry-cleaning and gym memberships, but your employees also want to know that you care about them as individuals. An employee’s work life and home life are not necessarily mutually exclusive and genuine care extends beyond workplace “perks.”

It all starts with the hiring process, particularly when it comes to workplace safety. Make sure the candidate buys into the plan, and embraces it as something just as important as a hard-hat or tool belt. Safety training, safety contests, claims trend analysis, safety committees, injury management, return-to-work options and safety inspections, when put in play, enable employers to reinforce the culture. It seems that when employees work together with management to eliminate unsafe acts and conditions, profits increase and claims decline.

In fact, safety largely is intuitive. Lots of claims can be avoided if more attention is paid to detail and safety is brought into focus across the various levels of the organization. It is best to have all employees take responsibility for safety awareness and auditing. Employees know that poorly stacked boxes, defective ladders, heavy lifting and wet floors can cause accidents and injuries; and they can be your eyes and ears on the facility floor.

Training's Impact on Culture

Employers who provide training classes send an underlying message that management cares about employee safety. Employees appreciate that management “talks the talk and walks the walk” by investing in training.

For example, one of our clients did not realize how much a lack of safety focus was impacting the company’s bottom line. When we consolidated their claims and did a review of the causes and locations of the claims, they were motivated to improve safety. Claims are now down by 60 percent, savings are significant and morale is much higher.

At another company, it came to our attention that the local clinic was not handling their first aid claims properly. Instead of handling them on a first visit, the clinic had the employee come back time and time again, thus driving up their fees and putting the employee out of work longer and longer. We found a triage service that eliminated 87 percent of all their claims by having a nurse handle the claim on site. Their claims have decreased, costs are down and the employees appreciate the new service. They did not want to have to take time away from work or their families for multiple clinic visits and be exposed to sick people.

We helped another company set up their safety committee. We suggested including employees from several departments and had upper-level management rotate coming to the meetings. Employees could see that management really cared about safety and really cared about them. It sent a powerful message and their claims dramatically have been reduced.

Start With Top Leaders

The safety message has to have the same emphasis as security; it must be a constant mindset. Starting at the top, a company's culture has to stress safety and security for all employees. This soon trickles down to permeate the entire organization and transcends all levels of operation. It is not just lip service, but a deliberate, conscious action to make sure that every action carried out by the organization is safety-conscious.

These real-world examples of caring and safety are the keys to savings. Once the culture of caring is established and problems are exposed, any business immediately can experience improvement. Maximizing productivity and profits and capturing worker's comp savings are within management’s control.

A recent meta-analysis by Gallup Inc. calculated the business-work-unit-level relationship between employee engagement and nine performance outcomes, including customer loyalty/engagement, profitability, productivity, turnover, safety incidents, shrinkage, absenteeism, patient safety incidents and quality (defects). The results: Median differences between top-quartile and bottom-quartile units were 10 percent in customer ratings, 21 percent in profitability, 20 percent in sales production, 17 percent in production records, 24 percent in turnover (high-turnover organizations), 59 percent in turnover (low-turnover organizations), 70 percent in safety incidents, 28 percent in shrinkage, 41 percent in absenteeism, 58 percent in patient safety incidents and 40 percent in quality (defects). While the relationship between employee engagement and organizational outcomes is meaningful in each area, it's noteworthy that safety tops the list.

Management Versus Employee Perceptions of Culture

According to Gallup, organizations with strong safety cultures have three things in common:

  • Their employees are committed to doing quality work.
  • The company's mission or purpose makes employees feel their job is important.
  • Workers feel their opinions count.

While many employers may feel they foster such an environment, a recent study by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, cofounders and leading researchers at VitalSmarts, a TwentyEighty Inc. company, points to a significant gap between what management wants corporate culture to be (and thinks it is) and how employees view corporate culture.

They found while leaders say they want innovation, initiative, candor and teamwork, what employees feel is really valued is obedience, predictability, deference to authority and competition with peers. Employees say their leaders hype one set of behaviors but reward another.

An honest, open conversation with employees can help reveal if there is a chasm in corporate culture. And should one exist, that very same conversation can lead to bridging that gap.

About the author: Janice Berthold, CPCU, CWCA, PWCA, ChFC, CLU, is a senior vice president with Heffernan Insurance in Menlo Park, Calif. She has over 25 years of commercial insurance experience. Berthold can be reached at 650-842-5205 and at [email protected].

This article was originally published on EHS Today, a companion site of IndustryWeek and part of Penton's Manufacturing & Supply Chain group.

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