A #POSH idea

Positive Occupational Safety & Health – inclusive, diverse, equal action

by Louise Hosking

Why is this important?

Achieving true inclusion within diverse and equitable workplaces makes a significant difference to the bottom line. This is not just about doing the right thing.

Research by Deloitte1 has shown inclusion boosts employees’ ability to collaborate by 42% and innovate by 83%. Organisations with proven inclusive leaders are 45% more likely to increase their market share and 85% of CEOs say inclusion strategies have improved profitability.

“The Healthy profit”2 by IOSH has shown for every €1 invested in safety, health & wellness initiatives there is a return of €2.20. Within a small talent pool, the best and brightest will not stay if they feel unfairly treated or unable to make a positive contribution which enables them to grow personally and professionally. No matter what their size, modern businesses can no longer ignore mood indicators.

As a business owner, someone working with FMs, organisations, and individuals to encourage positive changes and a new generation of OSH practitioners to step into this career, I believe this is a critical thread which must run through us all personally, professionally, and organisationally. If we can truly embrace inclusivity we have the potential to get off the treadmill; to live and work differently. It will encourage us all to be more open minded, disagree well and start from a position of “YES” more often. With a focus on positive solutions rather than lists of faults we will achieve greater productivity and feel better about ourselves and our work. We are empowered to become collaborative solution focussed innovators.

Time for change

We live in a world with an ageing demographic so will have to work for longer. Women are an important part of the workforce who expect to be treated equitably and reach leadership positions. However, women are still more likely to be hired on experience rather than potential and to be criticized or talked over. Men want to spend time with their children and to achieve a better work-life balance too. Across the world, more men take their own lives than women – in the UK, three times more. Traditional “breadwinner” values along with an expectation to display a hard work exterior and hide emotion in the workplace means men are not being their true selves at work either.

“Alpha” style leadership values centred around abusive, aggressive, results-driven achievers greatly hinders men and women from reaching their full potential. It depletes morale and impairs teamwork. It has also been shown to increase business risk. It is bad for the alpha and everyone else.

Poor mental health is increasing. We cannot continue to work in an environment which is constantly switched on, distracted, pulled in different directions and unhealthy. We know that when people feel excluded it affects receptors in the brain which have the same effect as physical pain. This makes it an OSH issue. Feelings matter. When people are not happy on the inside it affects their mental health and their competency drops which means it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bias is real and when it is allowed to continue unchecked the same types of people are the ones with the best seats at the table which continues the same cycle.

No-one deserves to feel this way

We all come from a mix of backgrounds and have our own bias. It is time to embrace our differences, welcome newcomer ideas, retain corporate memories from the experienced and learn to work with people of different backgrounds, education, experience and culture, or face grinding to a standstill. Difficult conversations should not be avoided but undertaken with mutual respect, honesty and kindness.

Diversity brings with it different ideas and different perspectives. If people feel able to express these views in a positive way, being honest to themselves, they will work at their best and take others with them which makes real change happen at every level. Good disagreement and debate are essential to progress, but we may have to re-learn this. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and thoughts. If we listen to others we can create an environment for solving problems in a manner which we probably didn’t think possible – which is when extraordinary things happen.

Everyone should feel they can be themselves without having to edit what they say or how they behave. Change can only come from collective action.

Top Tips for Change

1. Use a climate tool or staff survey to find out what your colleagues really think and to understand current status. Include a pay survey even if your organisation is not legally obliged to do so.

2. Engage. Have difficult conversations. Talk to people about their perceptions. Ask questions. Keep asking questions. Consider your own potential bias and work on it, don’t jump to conclusions.

3. Listen to issues raised. Really listen. Accept what is being said in good faith.

4. Engage champions at a senior level especially those within groups which are less likely to experience bias.

5. Review recruitment processes not only for those coming into the business but also how project or task groups are chosen.

6. Actively mix up project groups with different types of people.

7. Reflect on your organisation’s outward image and role models. Does your website show a mix of people? When there is a photo opportunity is there a diverse representation?

8. If there is under-representation in your organisation might you need to work differently or introduce adjustments, so they succeed on an equal footing.

9. If you introduce groups to look at this as a project ensure they have the authority to influence change in the whole organisation to avoid cliques or new pockets of exclusion being created.

10. Undertake inclusion training alongside soft skills training, so people have all the tools they need to apply their new knowledge and handle conflict in a manner which results in positive change. Then go back to point 1.


Find out more about good mental health for all

Featured in FMJ October 2019