Archive for the ‘Health & Safety’ Category

Bullying and the Bottom Line

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Much attention has been placed on bullying and its impact on the lives of its victims. It is so important that the Ministry of Labour introduced anti-harassment laws to protect workers from being bullied at work. Yet, many companies overlook the negative bottom-line impact bullying produces. If they did, perhaps more managers would focus on creating a more harmonious workplace rather than one that is merely focused on the numbers.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

In a study conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute in 2007:

  • 37% of workers have been bullied: 13% currently and 24% previously
  • Most bullies are bosses (72%)
  • More perpetrators are men (60%) than are women(40%)
  • Most Targets (57%) are women
  • Women bullies target women (71%); men target men (54%)
  • Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal discriminatory harassment
  • 62% of employers ignore the problem
  • 45% of Targets suffer stress-related health problems
  • 40% of bullied individuals never tell their employers
  • Only 3% of bullied people file lawsuits

It does not take a rocket scientist to know that a worker who feels bullied at work is apt to quit. But has your company calculated the costs associated with the exit of this worker?

First, there are the inevitable sick days; those days when the worker cannot bear to come to work. In addition, there is the increased usage of medical benefits for prescription drugs for depression and/or anxiety, medical tests to investigate headaches and chest palpitations, and other decreased brain function. Some workers self medicate by drinking more or using recreational drugs. These could leave them groggy and less able to concentrate during the day.

Not only are the workers who are the prey of bullies affected. Data from research from the Sauders School of Business at the University of British Columbia, Canada that “the results also indicate that people who experienced it as bystanders in their units or with less frequency reported wanting to quit in even greater numbers.” Not only is the apparent victim psychologically leaving the workplace due to the mental and physical stress caused by being bullied, but so is the rest of the workforce who witnesses it.

In a report written by Think of all the lost productivity a company may encounter if 20% or 30% of their entire workforce became less productive all at once. At $14.00 per hour, that means that the company is actually losing up to $8,200 in lost production for each employee. To a company with 10 workers, that means that the company is losing approximately $16,400 each year because of workers who are too stressed to perform their jobs properly. And this does not even take into account the increased sick time silent observers take during the year.

Of course, when the worker finally makes the decision to leave, there cost to replace them. This entails having staff cover job duties while searching for a qualified candidate, something that further decreases their productivity as they “fill the shoes” of the vacant role. It also entails management’s time to recruit, interview, and select the successful candidate. This process can take weeks or even months, depending on the role, all the while current staff are overburdened and not fully functional.

According to the Studer Group, “A survey of 610 CEOs by Harvard Business School estimates that typical mid-level managers require 6.2 months to reach their break-even point.” Further to this, Eric Koester of MyHighTechStart-Up, “estimates range from 1.5x to 3x of salary for the ‘fully-baked’ cost of an employee – the cost including things like benefits, taxes, equipment, training, rent, etc.”

For a front line worker, even at the lowest end of the scale of minimum wage and entry level would cost a company over $28,000 to get a new worker completely trained and fully productive. Multiply that by the number of staff who quit during any given year, and you can see how the financial toll of bullying takes on the bottom line.

To find out if your company has a problem with workplace bullying read our blog “Diagnosing a Toxic Workplace”. Then call us to find out how we can help you to identify the undercurrent of your organization and its cost impact on your bottom line.

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Why Write a Policy and Procedure Manual?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012
We create company policies

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Policies are broad in nature, and their function is to tie work activities to the company’s vision, mission, and strategies. Policies help managers provide a consistent and transparent method of governance regarding common work practices and direction. Policies save countless management hours by streamlining and communicating expectations, as well as answering common questions.

In essence, the Policy and Procedures manual is the company’s collection of answers to employee’s frequently asked questions.

Most companies have a policy and procedure manual, or at least some version of a manual. In today’s virtual world, it is tempting to lift policies off the internet and apply them to the organization. However, there is a risk to using something found on the internet: it might not be correct, and it might not be relevant or legally binding for a company in your country.

When writing a Policy and Procedure manual, it is important to consider the following:

Know the difference between a Policy and a Procedure: a policy is a written guide that outlines what employees are expected to do, while a procedure outlines how it should be done. Both policies and procedures are important, because one without the other creates incomplete direction for work activities.

In addition to acting as a communication tool, Policy and Procedure manuals can also act as a legal advocate to the company. When consistently applied in a consistent, persistent, firm, but fair manner, policies can protect the company when legal concerns could potentially turn into legal problems.

In many ways, policies define and communicate the rules and obligations of both managers and employees. Having clearly written and applied policies protects the legal interests of the company. In today’s litigious environment, it is more important than ever to have policies that say what they should, are applied correctly, and legally allowed.

So if your company is in need of a policy manual that is clear, concise, and covers all the bases, give us a call today!

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Diagnosing a Toxic Workplace

Monday, November 26th, 2012

It’s a phrase we are hearing more and more. Toxic Workplace: also referred to as a Poisonous Workplace. What is it and more importantly, how can you tell if your workplace is toxic?

The first clue to diagnosing a toxic workplace is the attitudes of co-workers and managers. Are they friendly, or are they cranky? How do you feel? Are you happy to go to work everyday, or do you silently hope that the flu hits you at night just so you can miss a day?

Toxic work environments zap the lifeblood of its workforce, destroys productivity, and undermines corporate performance. It is a “top down” problem; created, fostered, and allowed to flourish by upper management in the pursuit of the holy bottom-line. Companies that ignore people in favour of profits are likely to suffer the long-term consequences of poor staff relations and underperformance. The following are some common signs that your workplace could be toxic:

High absenteeism – do people seem to call in sick more frequently than normal? People may not necessarily be sick, but instead, could just be “sick of work”. Even if companies do not pay for time off because of illness, there are hidden costs: lost productivity, increased stress and annoyance of co-workers who have to cover, and of course, inconsistent ability to meet customer expectations.

Internal conflicts – not everyone can get alone all the time. But when staff conflicts threaten to derail the work getting done, it’s high time to take a closer look. Toxic people breed toxic workplaces. So if there is an office bully, or someone who makes others walk on eggshells, deal with the problem quickly and decisively.
Lack of commitment – either to the work, quality, or going the extra mile. People who do not enjoy their work or the workplace are less willing to work overtime, attend company functions, or participate in staff events. They see the job as a place to earn money, but nothing more. These people are not willing to pitch in to get a major project done on time, and refuse to help co-workers when needed.

Inappropriate language, behaviour, or attire – making sexist comments, poking fun of someone or name calling, publicly announcing other people’s mistakes: these are all inappropriate behaviour at work. We may have freedom of speech, but that does not give people free range on what they can say. Negative gossip, overly critical attention, or down-right rudeness create a work environment where nobody can flourish.

We spend approximately 1/3 of our lives at work. It makes sense that employees want to feel good about going to work. It is management’s responsibility to make sure that the workplace places a balanced approach to profits AND people. Gone are the days when bean-counters could dictate what a company could expect from its workforce. Younger generations are demanding a kinder, gentler approach to work. They will not work for companies who place value only on the bottom line. They also may not tell you why they leave; they just will.

So if you’d like to get a snapshot of your work culture, give us a call. We conduct assessments, employee surveys, and third party investigations into allegations of toxic or poisonous work environments. From there, we can help you strategize the best way to make positive changes at all levels of the organization: top-down and bottom-up change that lasts!

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Building a Culture of Workplace Safety

Monday, November 19th, 2012

What does it take to get everyone on board and working towards making the workplace safe? Putting it another way, WHY won’t staff wear their safety glasses the way they are supposed to?

As a consultant, I am always amazed, but never surprised when I tour a manufacturing facility or construction work site and see workers not wearing safety glasses. The manager who is showing me around awkwardly reminds the worker that he or she needs her safety glasses, and the work obediently put them on. But almost always, when we are safely out of visual range, the worker removes the glasses and begins to work again.

They know it is unsafe. They know accidents can happen. So why don’t they wear their safety equipment. Worse, why do some staff still remove safety guards from machines? Or enter into horseplay that can create terribly unsafe work conditions?

Strict enforcement is one reason. Managers often find it uncomfortable to discipline over something as small as not wearing safety glasses. The act just does not seem to merit a written warning. So managers keep reminding staff during their walk-around, and staff keep doing what they always do. SOME staff, that is: because not everyone ignores safety rules. Most staff are good at following the rules; it seems to always be core number of the same people who just do not consider safety important.
How can managers reach those staff? Here are a few thoughts on how to develop a culture of safety at work:

• Enforce the rules. Things that get measured get done. If managers allow frequent offenders to continue with unsafe work habits (i.e. removing guards or not wearing safety glasses), what does that say about how seriously the manager him or herself take safety?

• Be a role model. If the manager does not wear safety glasses, hard hats, or hair nets, how can they expect their staff to follow the rules. Supervisors seem to follow the rules, but their managers sometimes feel exempt. Managers may just need to enter a restricted area to ask a “quick” question, and putting on safety shoes, goggles, etc seems, well, unnecessary. At one food facility, staff had to wear hair nets for their own protection and for quality assurance reasons. Senior managers would come for the occasional tour of the plant, however, rather than wearing hair nets, they insisted on baseball caps. Hmmm…. What message were they sending there? That they didn’t want to “look funny” in a hair net?

• Safety takes consistent and persistent effort. Regular safety talks that emphasize not only the hazard, but also the reason for the safety rule, must be held. Companies can prepare a database of safety talks that they can plan out a year in advance. Daily scrums can be a great communication technique to keep safety fresh in everyone’s minds. Some supervisors believe safety talks are uncomfortable, because they feel like they are telling their crew something that they already know. They feel like what they say falls on deaf (or bored) ears. If done right, safety talks can keep safety top-of-mind; and isn’t this the ultimate goal?

• Including health and safety on performance appraisals, and rewarding those with good safety records and not rewarding those with poor records, is essential. Paying a bonus to workers who hold exemplary safety records encourages more of the same sort of behaviour. Rewards such as gift certificates to local restaurants, movies, or a day off with pay, go a long way to showing staff you take safety seriously and are prepared to say a personal thank you to those who are “caught” doing something safely.

• The Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) can be active advocates for safety. Get them involved in doing safety rounds on a daily basis, not just for the once-a-month or quarterly safety audit. Committee members are part of the workforce, and are there to be the company’s safety ambassadors. Ask them how to improve safety, and then really (and I mean REALLY) listen to them. Worker reps know what happens on shop floors, and they have the best inside scoop on what it will take to improve safety records.

In today’s work environment, health and safety should be easier, not harder. Yet some companies seem to have trouble navigating troubling safety waters. I hear supervisors complain that they “tell them over and over” to do something right. I hear managers complain that “they (shop floor workers) refuse to follow the rules”. I hear accountants state “the safety fines are killing us, if only the staff would stop causing accidents.”
What this tells me is that there is a divide between management and workers in regards to safety. Managers see themselves as the ones who make the rules, and workers as those who follow the rules. Workers on the other hand, see management as out of touch with practicality, and believe “it” (a serious injury) will never happen to them. Until management and its workforce come together in a shared and cohesive safety philosophy, building a true culture of safety will be unobtainable.
If your company is having a difficult time getting its managers, supervisors, and workers to fully commit to safety, and if you are finding yourself buried in fines and accident costs, it might be time to call in outside help. Workforce Acceleration has training programs that can coach all levels of the organization to recognize and address safety culture issues. We also conduct audits, employee safety surveys, and offer consultation regarding your safety program and documentation. Give us a call to see if we can help reduce costs associated with a diminished or poor safety focus.

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Again, Winter driving and Employee Safety

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

I’m going to say it – I HATE winter driving. So I avoid it whenever possible. Not everyone has that luxury, and work still needs to get done. However, where is the balance between getting to work and being able to arrive safely? How should employers handle employee absenteeism during bad driving advisories?

What should they be thinking about, and communicating to their employees?

I live in the snow belt of ski country. Therefore, I understand when you walk outside to begin your drive to work and find that a foot of snow has fallen overnight. As a consultant, I get the luxury of balancing my workload with winter driving. But what about the poor worker who has not choice but to venture into the sometime gruesome driving conditions?

Depending on where they are, where they are going, and under certain conditions, a vehicle accident MAY in fact become a WSIB claim. If the worker is not driving to their normal work location, but instead is driving to a client location, training seminar, or meeting, an accident can be deemed work-related.

So how should employers handle situations when they know there are bad driving conditions and they have staff who are off-site for various reasons? Yes, the company has paid for the seminar, but in the long run, would it not be prudent to tell the worker to skip it? How much more costly would a WSIB claim be to the company should that worker be injured in an accident?

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Winter Driving and Employee Safety

Monday, December 6th, 2010

You know you live in Canada when you begin to think about winter driving in mid-October. Snow tires replace summer tires, boots replace sandals, and winter driving conditions replace summer time activites in the minds of workers.

We all know some employees who will drive through a blizzard to get to work. My husband is one of those die hard drivers. Others, like me, set out on the roads with a pit in my stomach, wondering what lies beneath the snow and ice, and how much extra time I will need to make it there safely.

Employers need to consider how they handle employee absenteeism on days of bad weather. And given that areas across Ontario seem to be hit differently, managers need to consider the local weather conditions WHERE THEIR EMPLOYEES LIVE rather than where they work. There have been many instances where companies have disciplined workers (or not paid them) because it was sunny in Toronto, but highways were closed along the commute of their workers.

How does this affect employee morale, and what is the message managers send workers during bad weather. If companies do not repsect and care for the safety of their workforce in all kinds of weather, can they realistically expect employees to “go the extra mile” when needed?

Good and responsible companies have contingency plans for bad weather. Perhaps workers are allowed to make up lost time by giving an extra hour a day the rest of the week. Or, perhaps they can work from home. Does your company have a policy and best practice for when the weather turns against us?

What message does it send? That you care about the comfort and safetyof your workforce, and trust that they will not take advantage of that understanding? Or, does it tell employees that they are expected at work not matter what?

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Third Party Investigations

Friday, November 26th, 2010

In-House or Third Party Investigations?

The only defence to a Health & Safety complaint is due diligence.  When dealing with issues of workplace violence and harassment, many managers, and even Human Resource professionals, are at a loss on it takes to ensure their company is protected and can prove due diligence.

When the outcome of an investigation seems to clearly demonstrate a violation of the Health & Safety Act of Ontario for harassment or violence, the employer has a clear mandate – correct the inappropriate situation as quickly as possible. Depending on the severity of the incident, this may include termination with cause.

Ideally, the evidence collected during the investigation will prove cause to avoid claims of wrongful dismissal. Of course, this does not prevent a terminated worker or manager from accusing the company of unfair investigation practices, coaching witnesses, or acting against their Human Rights.  What should managers do when the complaint is complicated, involves multiple workers, or regards Human Rights issues? As well, what if the outcome of an investigation is unclear?

Many managers struggle with how to handle complicated complaints. Should they still discipline the party? If so, how far should that discipline go? In these instances, how confident can a company be that their findings and subsequent actions will hold up should legal proceedings ensue?

Knowing when an investigation can be conducted in-house and when it should be conducted by a qualified third party is essential for a successful defence of due diligence. Instances of sexual abuse, claims against managers, or complicated claims involving multiple workers may be better investigated through the use of a third party investigator.

Does your company know how to handle their investigation properly so that the defence of due diligence will protect them from prosecution?

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