"One of the biggest reasons why employees don’t report issues is because they believe management won’t act on it" - Business Leader News

“One of the biggest reasons why employees don’t report issues is because they believe management won’t act on it”

Luke Anear

In our latest interview, Business Leader chatted with Luke Anear, the CEO of SafetyCulture. Luke offered some expert insight into employee safety and work culture, and offered some useful advice for those working in management.

How have the key workplace issues that impact frontline workers changed since the pandemic began?

Working environments for frontline workers were already complex before COVID-19 – but the pandemic has taken this to a whole new level. As the pandemic continues to evolve, constantly changing guidance from county councils and the government has made it increasingly difficult for both frontline workers and business leaders to keep up.

Frontline workers are faced with high workloads and demanding shifts and yet, are expected to stay across all of these different updates. This is no easy feat whilst putting both their personal and mental health on the line every day. It’s the frontline, not the executives, who actually deal with the day-to-day implementation of COVID-19 processes after all.

It’s become essential for business leaders to adopt a new approach if changing government regulations and guidelines are to be carried out effectively. Now more than ever, top-down compliance models should be replaced and the empowerment of frontline workers should come to the fore instead. Give autonomy to frontline workers and the ability to raise issues – and you’ll shape teams with the motivation to drive best practice and daily improvements.

How has the pandemic changed the expectations around workplace health and safety? How has this taken shape across different sectors and types of business?

Since the pandemic hit, community safety became everyone’s responsibility. It’s not just high-risk industries like mining or construction that need to pay attention. Now all workplaces and businesses of all industries need to think about safety. It lies at the heart of a company’s operational viability and it’s a point of difference for brands. Whether it’s serving customers or hiring staff, everyone expects a safe experience; and every business, no matter the industry, needs to have a genuine safety culture.

What are some examples of the consistent lack of communication between employees and senior management, as discovered in SafetyCulture’s ‘Feedback from the Field’ research? What is the impact of this?

Our “Feedback from the Field” research revealed that frontline workers often don’t feel listened to on issues that matter to them. In fact, our research report found that the majority of frontline workers (67%) say that they are never, rarely, or only sometimes listened to on topics that matter to them the most.

Here’s an example I imagine many can relate to. We’re all familiar with the challenges posed by working in dispersed teams. Now picture teams in high-risk environments, often working either in isolation or in silos. This scenario was something Jurassic Fibre faced daily and understandably, it makes two-way dialogue a challenge. It was after adopting our flagship app iAuditor that they realised how easy it was for workers to flag issues with immediacy. With tech that allowed them to capture photos and contextual evidence as events happened, it became far easier for management to provide support in real-time.

The reality is that lack of timeliness is one of the more significant barriers faced when it comes to communication between employees and senior management. When this is a one-off situation, there may be no immediate harm caused. But when near misses and underreporting stack up, it increases the chances of more serious incidents – something we all want to avoid.

If frontline workers can report an issue and send an immediate notification to those who need to know, you never have to worry about under-reporting or missing a moment. Simple tools like iAuditor’s Issues feature allow teams to report things that don’t look right – whether it’s an observation, incident or hazard. When teams have instant communication and those in headquarters real-time visibility to act immediately – it’s a win-win situation.

How can (and should) management address concerns presented by employees who don’t feel able to speak up without being ignored – especially now they are seen as heroes by the public?

One of the biggest reasons why employees don’t report issues is because they believe management won’t act on it. Over one in three frontline workers (34%) agree their willingness to provide workplace feedback is impacted by a belief that “nothing will be done” once reported. Not taking action could look like downplaying the issue or ignoring it entirely. If team members don’t trust you to take action – they won’t bother to speak up.

Of course, establishing mutual trust within your teams takes time. Start by ensuring your team understands there are robust compliance, safety and legal policies in place – and that their report will be addressed. Simplify the process of reporting issues such as adopting QR technology – so that teams can scan the code and report an issue in under a minute, anonymously. Creating these channels can provide opportunities for visibility and help start some conversations – even the uncomfortable ones.

What is your key advice for management when it comes to looking after employees – both in terms of health and safety and in terms of culture and communication?

With everything that’s going on right now, the advice I’d give is simple: make your workplace a safe space. People are happier, more productive, and energised when they feel accepted and safe. We’re not just talking just about Covid-19 safety precautions, but emotional or psychological safety too – where employees feel safe enough to raise concerns freely without worrying about the repercussions from opening up.

There’s a relationship between fear of retaliation and under-reporting, meaning that frontline workers are far less likely to come forward about issues if they fear job loss as a result. Create a culture of positivity rather than fear and start empowering your team to speak up and feel confident to raise any concerns. Let their observations become your opportunities — at the end of the day, these incremental improvements ladder up to better business operations.