Safety & Well-Being: Inextricably Bound

15-06-2022

Posted By: EnvisionWell

Safety & Well-Being: Inextricably Bound

Safety & Well-Being: Inextricably Bound

 

In the wake of the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, safety is on everyone’s minds. While much of the focus right now is on safety from gun violence, there is a broader discussion to be had, particularly for employers.  

Americans do not feel safe these days. Two years of COVID-19 had us questioning our physical safety nearly every day. Recent focus on the tragic and appalling number of mass shootings and gun deaths in America have us worrying that at any moment, without warning, our lives could be in danger.  

Maslow's pyramidIt cannot be denied that safety and well-being are inextricably bound, and that feeling safe is fundamental to our health. Safety is number two on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for good reason. If you are unfamiliar or need a refresh, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology consisting of five tiers of needs, often depicted in a pyramid.

The first set of needs on the hierarchy are the most basic to human survival: physiological needs such as food, water, and shelter. After these comes safety, followed by love and belonging, esteem, and finally, self-actualization.

It’s important to note that the lower four levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are referred to as ‘deficiency needs’ while the fifth, self-actualization, is referred to as a ‘growth’ need. The difference there is that while we all long for self-actualization, our lives will not be significantly harmed if we fail to meet that need. Stunted, yes, but not harmed.

The four deficiency needs, on the other hand, are fundamental to our well-being. When these needs are not met, we suffer. Without food and water, for instance, we perish. Without safety, we can also perish, or be seriously injured, as well as suffer a host of debilitating mental health disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, depression and more.

While certain aspects of Maslow’s hierarchy have been criticized over the years, such as how and when some of these needs show up in a person’s life, whether a person really needs to meet one need before moving onto the next, or some of the methods he used to determine the theory, we did not come across anybody arguing that safety wasn’t a basic human need.

In fact, the only criticism we were able to find about safety in Maslow’s hierarchy is a paper whose authors felt that safety should be the first tier of the pyramid, instead of the second, switching places with physiological needs.

 

Safety in the Workplace

There are many different aspects of safety, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll concentrate on these three: physical safety, emotional safety, and financial safety.

 

Employees running out of building Physical Safety

If you are in an industry where your employees handle dangerous equipment or materials, then properly caring for their physical safety is already high on your priority list. However, there are other aspects of physical safety to consider that include all types of businesses and industries.

For instance, do you have a detailed emergency plan for evacuation? Do you have a detailed emergency plan for an active shooter? Are they effectively communicated and/or practiced? Do you have communication protocols in place in the event of an emergency? 

Do your employees feel safe leaving and entering the building and/or walking to their cars? Do your employees feel physically safe in terms of sexual harassment? If your workers are remote, do they feel physically protected and supported in terms of digital health concerns? Do you have cyber security protocols and training in place?

Do your employees still harbor fears around COVID-19? While for some, fears of COVID-19 have lessened over time, there are still many employees who have underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe COVID. Others have elderly parents living with them and worry about potentially harming them. For them, this fear of COVID is strong and palpable.

To meet the needs of the time, employers are called on to address the safety concerns of their employees proactively and transparently.

 

Woman looking worried, leaning against a walllEmotional Safety

Emotional safety is vital to a thriving workforce. Emotionally safe workplace environments breed innovation and high performance, while those that are emotionally unsafe breed stagnation and low performance. High turnover rates, as well as high costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism are also often present in emotionally unsafe workplace cultures.

Employees who do not feel emotionally and psychologically safe at work cannot perform at their best because their need to protect their safety becomes paramount. What’s more, regularly experiencing emotional and mental distress due to feeling unsafe can lead to a variety of health problems, both physical and mental. This only compounds the situation and the harmful effects of an emotionally unsafe work environment.

Some fundamental questions about emotional safety to consider are:

 

Is your workplace culture safe? Or is it toxic?

Do your employees feel supported?

Do they feel safe in speaking up?

Do your employees harbor fear of punishment – for mistakes, for a difference of opinion, for speaking up about sexual harassment?

Are sexual harassment policies clearly defined and enforced?

Do your employees feel discriminated against?

Do they regularly fear they could lose their job?

 

These are just a few questions to ponder regarding the emotional safety of your employees. The full list is much longer because there are numerous, and nuanced, aspects of emotional safety to consider.

 

Hand puts coins in piggy bank Financial Safety

Our physical survival, and that of our family’s, is largely dependent on our financial safety or security. As such, when financial safety is threatened, it causes a great deal of stress and mental health issues. This is why Finance is one of our 10 Pillars of 360° Well-Being®

50% - 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. 40% of adults in the U.S. couldn’t handle paying a $400 emergency with cash, savings, or a credit card that could be quickly paid off. This means that more than half of all employees do not feel financially safe.

There are other ways to support your employees financial safety such as implementing a financial wellness program, partnering with a financial planning company to offer discounted rates to your employees, adding 401k matching contributions, and offering supplemental emergency healthcare benefits such as hospital indemnity insurance and critical illness insurance.

Another aspect of financial security to consider is whether your employees feel that their jobs are safe. Job security and financial security are very much linked, especially considering how many Americans don’t have necessary emergency funds in place. Job security is ultimately a shared responsibility between the employer and employee. An employee must perform; if they don’t, their job is no longer secure. The employer (and leadership) must work to keep the company financially secure so that they can continue to pay their employees.

Between those two ends of the spectrum, however, is a lot of gray area. For instance, what happens if an employee falters due to mental or health-related stressors? What happens if they try something and it just doesn’t work out? What happens if/when they make a mistake? How does the company approach layoffs if they become necessary?

Financial safety, then, begins to expand into workplace culture policies and practices as well, when viewed through the lens of job security.

 

The Two Sides of Safety

There are two sides to the safety coin. One, are your employees actually safe? And two, do they feel safe? In terms of the health and well-being of your employees, both sides are equally important. Perceived threat, even if it’s not real, can do a lot of harm, particularly to a person’s mental health, not to mention company morale.

At EnvisionWell, we’ve developed a proprietary workplace wellness assessment that provides critical data and insight in the following eight areas: physical health, emotional health, financial health, education/training, life/work balance, company mission, social connections, and 360° Well-Being®. We have recently developed an alternate version of our KSAA® Workplace Wellness Assessment to include more questions regarding safety so that employers have access to that critical data as well.

The KSAA® Assessment offers vital insight into how your employees really feel and think, what their needs actually are, where the gaps lie, what’s working, and what is not. This information is instrumental in helping organizations improve the safety and well-being of their employees.

Learn more about our KSAA Assessment® here. Reach out to us for an initial discovery call here.

 

 

 

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