At first, you thought it was just you, or just a few workers. Then you started to realize the truth – that everyone is on edge, walking on eggshells, unsure of what will happen or what to say. If this sounds like your office, then you have a culture of fear.
The gap between a calm person and a frightened one is the gap between the two selves. At your best, you can be deeply focused, creative, and connected to your colleagues. At your worst, you’re inflexible, narrowly focused, and forever fighting off threats.
This is why a fear culture destroys productivity – the more energy you devote to protecting yourself, the less energy you have available to create and dedicate your attention to helping others. For EHS professionals, fear cultures are a morale killer and a serious safety risk.
Your job as a safety professional includes physical and emotional safety, creating a work environment where everyone feels safe and secure coming to work. If you’re fending off a culture of fear, here are three tips to deal with fear productively.
Acknowledge and Analyze Fears
When someone says, “Don’t think about elephants,” all you can think about is elephants. They creep into your thoughts and stomp in the back of your brain, even if you never thought about elephants before.
The same is true of fear.
This is why the first step in addressing fear is to acknowledge and name your fears.
As humans, we’re only born with two innate fears: falling and loud noises. All other fears are learned behaviors triggered by life experiences. If you bottle up fear, you’re reinforcing the notion that this is something truly frightening – too frightening to actively deal with.
In short, you’re conditioning yourself to shut down every time you encounter a situation that triggers this particular fear.
To counter fear in yourself and others, bring those fears into the light. Name them. Dissect them. By doing this, you can identify the emotions behind the fear and analyze the learned behavior behind the fear. This gives you the tools to resist learned behavior and reprogram your system.
Normalize Through Support
An important step in this process, especially when fighting organizational fear, is to normalize fears through support systems.
Everyone is afraid of something – your boss, your CEO, your new business acquisition deal, your new work tasks, even your colleagues. The key is remembering that everyone is afraid.
The best way to handle this is to actively encourage support systems among colleagues. Encourage people to talk to each other. If necessary, create a support group for colleagues to talk about their concerns. This should be a space where everyone can speak frankly knowing that they are safe to do so.
By creating this kind of environment, you’re encouraging colleagues to share advice and remind each other that they can outlast frightening situations. This also helps foster bonds among workers, which further reinforces a positive workplace safety culture.
Changing Your Culture for the Better
Good workplace health includes good mental health. As a safety professional, your job is to create a work environment where everyone feels physically and emotionally safe to show up every day.
Transforming a workplace is a process requiring dedication from your safety team. As the cliche goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is your safety program.
For more tips to work towards a stronger, healthier culture, make sure to check out our blog for more great posts, like this post on how to overcome workplace bullying.