Articles | Cases

A culture of caring is the secret to optimizing performance for many companies

By Janice Berthold, MWCA, CPCU

We recently worked with a company that was having problems getting their employees to use their personal protection equipment (PPE). We convinced management to change the message (which was focused on penalties and reprimanding) to one stressing that PPE was for their own protection. The company even purchased nonslip shoes for all staff and required all staff - and management - to wear them. This literally stopped slip and fall injuries.

Another company reduced its insurance claims by buying lightweight garbage bags instead of the heavyweight type. Employees no longer overloaded bags and injured their backs. And for another, we got upper-level management 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 company by more engaged workers, less injury time, more productivity, and a reduction in insurance 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 has always stressed the importance of engaging employees at an emotional level. And by showing they genuinely care for their people, Disney employees are willing to invest in their work. Ultimately, these efforts can lead to increased employee effectiveness and improved business results.

We also know 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, all these, 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.

Actually, safety is largely intuitive. Lots of claims can be avoided if more attention is paid to detail and safety is brought into focus organizationally. It is best to have all employees take responsibility for safety awareness and auditing. People know that poorly stacked boxes, defective ladders, heavy lifting and wet floors can cause accidents and injuries.

Employers who provide training send an underlying message that management cares about their safety. Employees appreciate that management "talks the talk and walks the walk".

For instance, 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%, savings are significant and morale is much higher.

At another company, we found 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% 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 go to a clinic and be exposed to other sick people.

At another company, we helped set up a safety committee. We found employees from several departments to be included and had upper-level management rotate coming to the meetings. Employees could see that management really cared about safety and really cared about them. They sent a powerful message and their claims have reduced dramatically.

The safety message has to be the same as security. It is a constant mindset. Starting at the top, a company's culture has to stress safety and security for all staff. This soon permeates 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 can immediately improve. Maximizing productivity and profits and capturing Worker's Comp savings are within management's control.

A 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% in customer ratings, 21% in profitability, 20% in sales production, 17% in production records, 24% in turnover (high-turnover organizations), 59% in turnover (low-turnover organizations), 70% in safety incidents, 28% in shrinkage, 41% in absenteeism, 58% in patient safety incidents and 40% 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.

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

While many employers may feel they foster such an environment, a 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 ways to bridge the gap.

Janice Berthold is a Senior Vice President with Heffernan Insurance in Menlo Park San Francisco, California.