Is employee engagement the missing ingredient to an effective ergonomics process? My colleague Jeff Sanford, director and ergonomics engineer, and I teetered on that question while attending last week’s Safety Leadership Conference, sponsored by Penton Media’s EHS Today. In all honesty, we knew the answer was “yes” since Humantech recently conducted a benchmarking study about the value and benefits of an ergonomics process. In a survey of those who use The Humantech System ®, participants were asked to select and rank the value(s) their company had derived from an ergonomics process. Employee engagement was at the top of the list, over such values as reduced level of exposure to MSD risk, reduced MSD incidence and cost, and improved management involvement and accountability.
This finding may surprise some, but when analyzing the definition of employee engagement, it makes sense. Terry Mathis, CEO of ProAct Safety, and keynote speaker at the conference summed it up when he said, “To create an effective safety culture, everyone must take personal ownership.” Standing behind a photograph of a dirty, rental car he asked, “Who has ever rented a car?” Most, if not all, raised their hands. Then, he asked, “Who has ever washed and detailed the car before returning it?” Hands were down. Lastly, “Do we treat something differently if we own it?” Heads nodded.
Fact: people treat things better if they care about them. So, how do we get people to care about ergonomics? According to Mathis, “Employees needs to be included in the process.” Participation yields ownership. Managers need to coach not micromanage, provide effective and sustainable training not baptize by fire, provide the tools to enable them to be successful, and listen. Fostering that environment goes far…all the way to Wall Street.
Investors agree. Researchers at Harvard Law School found that Human Capital policies and how it is managed in terms of the skills, knowledge, and abilities employees bring to their work is material to a company’s financial performance. Additionally, SHRM Research sites a tight link between employee engagement and human capital and business outcomes. These finding, among others, have business leaders adopting employee engagement as one of their five global business strategies for their organizations, according to Karen Paul, PhD., leader of the Global Measurement Center for Expertise, 3M.
Employee engagement levels are often determined by their relationships with others, according to SHRM. “In 2015, two elements tied as the top engagement condition with the most employees being satisfied (77%): relationships with co-workers, and opportunities to use their skills/abilities at work. What does this tell us? Communicate, talk, banter. Then, repeat. Ask employees how they are doing, if they have the resources to do their jobs well, if they need additional support/tools/education to be successful. Relating to and providing them with basic needs, whether its training to improve skills and knowledge, a better tool to use to avoid injury, or an invitation to the next brainstorming meeting at work, are the key ingredients to deploying a successful ergonomics process.