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Creating a sense of ‘belonging’ makes for organisational happiness

Posted on September 7, 2023

Health and safety in the workplaces isn’t just about physical wellbeing. It’s also about workers’ health.

At Courtley we run many health and safety courses and when I speak to directors of companies or site managers, we often talk about workplace culture. One of the subjects that I always raise is around how much influence they have over other people’s lives, in other words their staff – after all, most people spend a lot of their time at work.

It should naturally be the case therefore that managers have an awareness of their employees’ lives where appropriate, because I believe this can help them to create a good working culture that in turn makes for a happier and healthier staff and a more productive and safer environment. If you treat people as assets of the business they will tend to respond positively, whether in an office or on a construction site. Creating that sense of ‘belonging’ is critical for an organisation’s performance and progress. It’s not enough to hire competent and talented people and feel like you’ve done your bit; the next critical stage is to appreciate and nurture them for their good and yours.

Shadow is the culture of the leader

When I was setting up, one of my mentors once said to me:

“What you should try to do, Steve, is have a business where nobody notices if you’re not there, but if the cleaner is off then everyone notices.”

In doing that you are empowering people to act for themselves, having invested time in guiding them to a point where they can make the right decisions.

Recently I went to play golf and one of my staff brought in lunch for me as a surprise. The surprise was on them, alas, because I was hacking round the rough at my local course. But it illustrates the confidence I have in my staff to conduct our business without my constant guidance or presence. My staff know that everyone has a role to play and that they have been encouraged in that role to the best of their ability.

Mistakes can be made of course that can cost money, goodness knows I’ve made most of them – like playing golf the other day – yet rather than coming down on someone like a ton of bricks, I always try to point out a better way that they can take on board and make that mistake less likely to happen again. If I were to say: “do this and do that”, then I would have to be there every day and that would change the atmosphere of the office with people on edge and more affected if something goes wrong.

This is about allowing people to come to work as their authentic selves and be allowed to make mistakes occasionally without fear.

Empowering people

A massive contributory factor to work-based stress is workers not being empowered to make decisions about how they work. The same principle applies in my day-to-day health and safety consultancy through risk assessments and method statements. I let the people I speak to tell me how their approaches match up to the correct procedures, rather than me telling them how they should look. And if it fits, I keep my mouth shut because it’s their approach and they have designed it to be effective. If there is something that is missing, I will suggest the odd tweak and without exception they respond positively, because it makes it their own safe system of work rather than an imposed diktat. Far too many people in health and safety will tell an ‘old hand at their job’ how to do it. This isn’t about showing someone how clever they are, it should be about empowerment,
encouragement and appropriate guidance, alongside appropriate training. Good managers know this and seek consistent outcomes and it’s up to them to use the right tactics to hit their targets.

Give them the skills and the authority

Part of the role of a manager is also to keep an eye on people to make sure that they are ok and to make reasonable adjustments to help them through their working life. People are people not machines. It’s not just about the balance sheets and what goes through the till. If you take on that role you have to look after the people who work for you.

Three decades on and Courtley Health and Safety is still thriving. It’s a reflection of the foundations that we laid if proof were needed. I may have had to repoint those foundations occasionally – they all shift as the world above evolves, but ensuring from the start that helping our staff grow and develop not only keeps them around for longer but has also kept the company strong, because our people are valued.

All those years ago, I actually used the word ‘happy’ in my business plan. Ultimately ‘happy’ is what it should all be about.

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