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Treading Gingerly: Culture – The Difference between Employees and Machines

Treading Gingerly: Culture – The Difference between Employees and Machines

Creating an empowering culture will motivate employees to go beyond the status quo.

We write a lot about culture when it comes to safety leadership. In fact, there's an article in this magazine expounding the importance of culture, as there is nearly every month.

In one of my previous jobs, the culture was oppressive. I was afraid to do my job for fear of making a mistake. And fear, it turns out, does not beget the creativity and imagination great journalism requires.

That job made me question myself as a journalist – something I had never done before – and consider for the first time in my life – a life in which it had been clear to me early on would involve writing and truth seeking – a different career.

But that all changed thanks to a leader who understood culture nurturing.

At my current company, after one of my first big stories ran in print, my boss – a person I admired both for her prose and journalistic integrity – pulled me aside and said, "Great job on that story, Ginger. I'm so glad I hired you."

It was a simple sentiment – something that took less than a minute of her day – but it made all of the difference. It was that moment that made me decide this was a place to which I wanted to dedicate myself professionally and personally. It showed me – without fanfare – that the people at this organization mattered and their ideas were valued.

Journalism can be a tough profession emotionally. Whether you're a daily beat reporter covering fatalities and school shootings or a magazine editor investigating wrongful deaths and human rights violations, it can take a mental toll. The best newsrooms are the ones that are safe havens, where everyone supports each other and works together to achieve a common goal: putting out the best news possible.

But that's the world I know. Yet I don't think it's all that different from those industries I cover – not at its core.

In evaluating companies for our annual America's Safest Companies awards, I look for employee-driven safety programs. And that's not because safety is the job of the workers, but because an employee-driven program is indicative of buy-in from management.

Without the support of management, employee-driven programs aren't sustainable.

The thing about creating a culture is that it isn't that hard.

It's the simple – but genuine – show of appreciation for your workers because you understand that they are not the same as the machines in the shop; they are people driven by human motives. It's creating a place where they want to work and contribute far beyond what is expected to earn their paycheck. It's about finding ways to give the best to your employees so that they in return will want to give their best to you.

Some of the greatest interviews I've had since I started writing about safety were with those safety managers who didn't talk about safety. They talked about culture. These people understood that creating the best environment would lend itself to safety naturally because workers in those situations care about their company, their coworkers and their products.

In a recent interview, one safety professional told me his main strategy is just to make people feel important. It's simple, but it works.

When I walked around that factory, I saw employees laughing and joking with their coworkers, but also I saw them looking out for one another. They cared about safety because they cared about each other and their company.

We so often talk about the ROI of safety, about the black-and-white impact on the bottom line and also about the immeasurable effect on less tangible things like morale and employee retention.

The same is true of culture – in a newsroom, in a factory. Give employees the best and they will give you the best. It's basic. It's human.

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