Recently I found myself attempting to explain to a close friend and business associate why I left my job to start a new line of work.
At some point in our conversation I said, “I have a need to give and I believe that everyone has this need to give, to serve, to help others.” I explained to him that it was born out of gratitude for everything that I had received in my life … a life that, I am sure like your life, has its share of hardships.
I tried to explain that I was not going to be a fundraiser to get people to give, but rather I was going to be a “giveraiser” to help people be more grateful, which in turn would lead to many positive personal and societal benefits.
He was inspired. He even said so. And as we parted ways, he said, “I really think what you are doing is important, Steve, but I do not believe that people are going to see how fortunate they are, unless they travel to the developing world. Good luck.” I did not say anything because I did not know how to respond.
I have come to realize that the response to his comment is simple. Namely, “That is exactly why I need to do what I am doing. You are right, we are so very fortunate and that is why it is even more critical. We should not have to see someone else experience pain, hardship or grief to feel fortunate or grateful for our own situations. If we wait for this, then we become the epitome of taking things for granted and entitlement.”
A parallel exists in the world of safety. Organizations with great safety records do not wait until an accident or tragedy befalls them or someone else before they act. Safety leaders know that they must always be diligent and never take for granted the good fortune of their safety performance. Simple question: What do you get when someone takes for granted a safety system, whether that is an inspection, a mechanical interlock, a design standard or an operating procedure? Answer: You have an accident waiting to happen.
Whether appreciating life circumstances or a safe workplace, gratitude is the common denominator between giving and safety. As a result, gratitude is one of the ways to overcome the complacency that can come with living in the developed world or working safely.
Results of ongoing research show promise in overcoming “the real world” challenges in building safer workplaces. We understand “the real world” as the place where we suffer lack of funding, too few resources, inaccurate perceptions of risk, the attitude of “it won’t happen to me” … the list goes on and on. Regardless of the positive steps that an organization may undertake, unfortunately, people can remain fixated on the negative which often leads to a downward spiral of negativity. They forget there is another side to “the real world” and this other side is pointing a way that provides hope. Researchers at the Universities of California and Miami have found that simply by counting their fortunes, instead of their misfortunes, people increased their overall well-being.
In this study, those who recorded what the researchers describe as “blessings” felt better about their life, had greater expectations and optimism for the coming week, had fewer symptoms of physical illness, spent more time exercising and were more likely to have helped someone. These findings came from test groups that lasted two weeks, three weeks and ten weeks in duration. Bottom line is that people grew more appreciative of their situations because they took time to notice.
It is important to stress that these studies were not focused on safety, but there may be ways to translate the insights into building a safer workplace culture. For example, try this simple, two-part exercise with your team for one month. Each day have everyone write down three things for which they are grateful, including at least one thing about workplace safety and at least one thing from his or her personal life.
You can make this exercise easier by placing a journal on everyone’s desk. This will also grab their attention signalling that you are serious. Then encourage people to, at some point during the day, have conversations about what they wrote and why. Do not force these conversations. Nurture them where they are already happening … at lunch, on break, prior to meetings, while travelling. In these conversations, encourage your people to include what they are grateful for, particularly about safety. When you sense the time is right, begin meetings by sharing what you wrote and why and then invite others to do the same.
Although this is a simple exercise, it is easier to not do it. Therefore, if you want it to catch on, you must lead. This means two things. First, lead by example by doing the exercise yourself. Second, be there to monitor, support and encourage your team as they undertake it.