Corporate Culture Key to Creating Buy-in for Safety, Ergonomics Programs
Naz Dardashti, CEO and senior managing consultant at ErgoNaz Inc. in Los Angeles, has been examining the critical link between employee buy-in and effective health, safety and ergonomics programs for years. She has used her background in social psychology to help her better understand human behaviors in the workplace and how they intersect with safety and ergo initiatives.
"As an ergonomics consultant working in a call center environment, I began noticing how employee behaviors were all different," she said. "Some people would get on board with the program while others would throw it out the door. It was the same program and training. The only thing different was the people. So I started using the principles of psychology to get employees involved and to motivate them to participate in the program."
Dardashti said she found many reasons why employers sometimes have difficulty getting buy-in from workers. Corporate culture, she said, has a lot to do with the problem.
"If you work for an employer and you know that the company cares for you, you will most likely accept any programs that they put in place," she said. "However, if I'm working in an environment where I don't feel appreciated and you are trying to get me to change my behaviors, I'm likely to reject it."
Dardashti said additional stress can also lead employees to reject a new program.
"When you are introducing a safety or ergonomics program, you want to make sure that it doesn't create a lot of stress for employees," she said. "If employees find themselves in an environment that creates stress, they are naturally going to try to remove themselves from that stress."
That stress will be reduced, Dardashti said, if employees have a perceived control over their work environment.
Teamwork, credibility are critical for any program. How can employers improve employee involvement and encourage buy-in? Dardashti recommended these strategies:
- Focus on communication. "It is all about communication," she said. "Employees are more likely to get involved if you explain ergonomics, let them know what the program is all about, tell them why you are creating the program, and explain what is expected from them."
- Implement a team approach. "Get people or teams of people involved," Dardashti said. "The more employees invest, the more the program becomes their own. The team approach is very successful."
In a company with 200 employees, Dardashti said, only one person on staff may be charged with implementing an ergonomics program, which can be overwhelming.
"The next thing you know, complaints of discomfort or requests for workstation evaluations begin to pile up," she said. "People will become frustrated with the program when they don't see something done quickly. With a team approach, employees will see a more immediate return."
If the company has 10 supervisors who are responsible for 20 employees each, Dardashti recommended providing these managers with extensive training so that they can take some of the pressure off the health and safety professional or the ergonomist. The "train the trainer" approach will allow supervisors to perform risk assessments, look for potential hazards, and recommend minor adjustments for employees. Dardashti said employees will also feel more confident in the program if they know that the employer is committed to providing training and that someone will be there to assist them if and when they need it.
- Establish credibility. "Changing corporate culture doesn't come easy," Dardashti said. "One way to do that is by establishing credibility."
Many programs fail to achieve buy-in if employees don't see the results. When introducing a program, Dardashti said it is important to illustrate the immediate returns and communicate them throughout the company.
"For example, if you want to focus on your chairs, tell employees the first phase of the program will be to purchase 20 new chairs by the end of the month," she said. "After that has been completed, let employees know that you will be having daily training sessions on how to use and adjust the new chairs. Take small steps, set a timeline, and it will build credibility."
February 26, 2009
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