Health, safety, and sustainability in a kinder work environment

How can a kinder workplace help businesses improve health and safety, sustainability, and regulatory compliance?

Bea Preto

by Beatriz Preto

During the pandemic, we talked a lot about the importance of being kind to ourselves and each other. Both individually and collectively, we seemed to appreciate that a little kindness goes a long way towards maintaining a positive organizational culture.

As the world moves forward, we need to ensure we don’t backtrack on kind work environments post-pandemic. It matters even (or perhaps especially) when everyone is not in the same place or working at the same time. 

Understanding kindness at work

What do we mean by a kind work environment? It means one with a culture of respect, empathy, and support. This means open communication, both up and down the organization. It means recognizing and acknowledging people’s contributions, being inclusive and genuinely valuing diversity. It also means enabling and supporting a good work-life balance for everyone in the organization.

What about on an individual level? Entrepreneur Andrew Swinand, CEO of Publicis Groupe Creative and Production US and The Leo Burnett Group, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that kindness has to start with yourself. He suggests that you need to look after your own physical and mental health to be able to look out for anyone else effectively. His second point is that you need to do your job well and effectively, and hold yourself accountable, to avoid putting any additional pressure on your colleagues and coworkers.

Only once you’re doing both these things can you start to reach out to others to learn more about their problems and concerns. Beyond that, Swinand suggests taking time to recognize and acknowledge other people’s contributions. You should also consider providing constructive feedback designed to help both the person receiving it and the organization.

This approach naturally resonates. It feels right that your strongest contribution to anyone else is doing your job well — and that you ought to be kind to yourself to enable that to happen. However, there is a gap in Swinand’s approach: the contribution of top managers to this culture of safety and respect. This at least partly manifests itself in compliance with health, safety, and sustainability regulations. What’s more, a culture of kindness can make a contribution to improved compliance.

Kindness and compliance: the missing link?

Swinand’s approach makes clear that a safe workplace is essential to building a kind working environment. Nobody can feel safe or do their job well and effectively in an unsafe environment. Employees need to feel safe both mentally and physically to work effectively. 

An Enhesa whitepaper suggests that the top four challenges in occupational health and safety are:

  1. Understanding the regulation of occupational health and safety specialists. 
  2. Protecting remote workers while they’re at home. 
  3. Mitigating threats to mental health. 
  4. Adapting training to meet workers’ needs.

Understanding regulations is a challenge because they’re constantly being updated, making it hard to keep up with requirements. 

Remote working is a challenge because it’s relatively new for many organizations. Finding a way through the maze is possible — but organizations need to recognize that they remain responsible for health and safety even when employees are working remotely. They also need to provide their employees with the tools to manage effectively. 

The key to supporting employee mental health seems to be awareness among both employees and managers is that everyone needs to view employee mental health as a priority for the organization — and they need to be able to speak up. This may require training, which of course links to the fourth challenge. 

Creating a strong and compliant workplace environment goes beyond physical and mental safety. Organizations need to create a culture that provides psychological safety and enables employees to speak up honestly about issues and concerns. A key definition of psychological safety is believing that it’s acceptable to express concerns and ideas — and ask questions. Swinand’s article makes clear that being able to provide honest and constructive feedback to individuals or the organization is a key component of kindness. However, it also leads to stronger compliance and better health and safety. Open and honest feedback from employees can help to fill gaps in organizational knowledge about safety and compliance. It is, in fact, a key way to address blind spots and help to improve safety.

Creating a virtuous circle for workplace kindness and compliance

Building a kinder work environment creates a ‘virtuous circle’ around workplace health and safety. Improving safety including psychological safety better enables kindness. However, acts of kindness include providing honest and conscious feedback.

Building a kinder work environment can therefore be an important way to improve occupational health and safety and enable employees to feel and be safe mentally, physically and psychologically.

Interested in workplace mental health?

Take a look at some of our other articles on workplace mental health and how it relates to regulatory compliance around the world.

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