What an amazing opportunity we have been given to think differently about how we approach workplace health and safety. Who could have predicted that 2020 would start the way it has?

Suddenly workplaces do not look the way they used to. For many, they will already be thinking about whether going back to “normal” is the best business decision to make. Businesses are under huge amounts of pressure, to not only stay afloat but to do so whilst continuing to protect their employees.


Proactive safety management is not a new concept, and for many businesses they are starting to understand that investing in employee safety and well being is shifting from a key employee engagement strategy to an enterprise-wide risk-management necessity.


How Australia has tackled Covid-19 so far offers the perfect example of what proactive safety professionals have been trying to do all along. Take radical action upfront to prevent injury and illness from happening; not trying to fix the problem when it is already out of control.  Does it sometimes feel like an overreaction,yes. Does it sometimes cost money and require changes in process, yes. Does it mean that employees become more flexible, engaged and healthy, absolutely.

What seemed too hard, costly or time-consuming to set up before, is now a reality. Employees have proven they are just as productive working from home,educational institutions can deliver most of their courses online, and call centres have been set up to run 24 hours a day from home-based offices.


Hopefully, we continue to think outside the box, follow what research has suggested works and start protecting employees from the risks we already know are present.


So let’s start with what we know:

●       Most injuries and illnesses are caused by distraction, fear to speak up,rushing, and mental overload.

●       1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental illness in a given year.

●       Proactive well being initiatives can enhance self-efficacy and overall resilience.

●       The return on investment for mentally healthy workplace initiatives can be 2.3 for every dollar spent (PWC 2014).


With these in mind, let’s look at three ways you can start to provide a proactively safe workplace for your employees.


1.      Genuine flexibility

Workplace flexibility is not just about working from home or allowing employees to leave early to pick the kids up from school. True flexibility is about providing employees with the choice of how they do their best work in a manner that aligns with their needs.

Whether that’s around location, time frames, breaks, or how they can access support, flexibility will mean something different for everyone. The more effective, productive and engaged an employee is, the better it is for everyone.

Not all employees can work from alternate locations, and there may be set hours you have to be available for your customers, but flexibility can be provided in other ways.


Think about options such as:

  • Set different work schedule options for when you do have set customer availability hours to meet. Then let your employees choose what schedule works for them.
  • Make work hours available across 24 hours. Allow employees to choose when they want to work.
  • Offer virtual customer service, even at reception.
  • Allow for career breaks, secondments, volunteering and community contribution opportunities. Not only will you be supporting your employees, but you will also be supporting your community.
  • If employees do need to come into the workplace, make that the exception,not the rule.

If your employees can get amazing work done in the time that suits them,does it matter when and where they achieve it?

2.      Building Trust

Building trust is part of building a solid culture. It is not only important to employee engagement but has a huge impact on an employee’s ability to feel and be safe.

According to Marsha Sinetar, psychologist and author, “Trust is not a matter of technique, but of character; we are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications.” 

Building genuine trust takes time and it starts at the top. It needs to be talked about, demonstrated and incorporated into every business decision daily for it to be authentic and believed. 

Before you can build trust you have to decide what trust is going to look like for your business. Can you articulate what that trust looks like? Will your employees be treated fairly and with respect? Will setbacks be viewed favourably or at least without negative consequences? Will proactive conflict be encouraged? When employees raise concerns will they be heard without apathy?Aligning your words and actions is a key pillar for building trust.


How trust translates to proactively protecting employees:

  • They feel more comfortable to speak up when they feel something is unsafe.
  • Employees have a stronger sense of purpose. They value the business and therefore will not take as many safety risks.
  • They are more likely to ask for help, therefore reducing rushing and burnout.
  • And employees are more likely to challenge the status quo and bring new safer options to the table.

How to start building trust:

  • Be transparent with business decisions, particularly when it involves role changes. Confront big issues promptly and close the circle of communication.
  • Encourage the use of mental health days; again this starts at the top.
  • Invest in employee development. Try and make every employee a better person before they move on to their next role.
  • Allow employees to use the full range of their skills and strengths.
  • Be quiet and listen. As a leader, if you are doing most of the talking you are not building trust.
  • Model the behaviour you seek and be consistent.

3.      Wellness Coaching

Health and wellness coaching is a fairly new modality in Australia. In America, however, there has been significantly more research and business interest in this form of wellbeing promotion. Harvard Medical School has started training their physicians in wellness coaching because they recognised they were “able to fuse the different skill sets in away that expanded their ability to connect with their patients and address their health needs on a deeper level.”


Wellness coaching focuses on helping individuals and teams reset behavioural habits. This reset supports not only their health and wellbeing goals but builds confidence and self-efficacy.  


Wellness coaching bridges the gap between clinical medicine and multiple health and social disciplines to improve overall wellbeing. Research indicates that not only does it help with creating long-lasting behavioural change, but can help with long term health outcomes for chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.


Health and wellness coaching:

  • Is a cost-effective way to support individualised wellbeing, often costing up to 50% less than other individualised programs.
  • Provides a proactive alternative to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP),which are useful when an employee is already struggling or has a concern that only a psychologist can help with.
  • Supports employees over a sustained period, usually 6 to 12 months.
  • Promotes capability, purpose and sustainable behaviour change.
  • Increases employee engagement, productivity and resilience.


Whichever way you choose to support your employees moving forward, make ensure that your choice proactively prevents harm. Adopt it with enthusiasm, make it apart of your business culture and promote it from the top. Employees do not come to work to slack off, they come to work because they want to make a difference. It is up to you to allow them to do that and to do it in a way that they are safe.

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