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Pay Attention to Your People – Who’d a Thought!

December 3, 2018
Risk Management

Earlier this week I got a chance to teach a Health and Safety Refresher course. This session was a bit different than my usual engagement. I wasn’t consulting with a room full of executives or managers – I was teaching an audience of custodians. I was excited for the opportunity to speak with operational people and to be involved with the sharp-end of the stick, for a change.

Before the class, I happened to speak with my brother, who is a full-time teacher. He suggested I try something. He told me to really focus on the people in the class. Not that I should skip any of the course content as a result, just be sure to focus on the people, throughout. He promised I would learn something, and I decided to give it a shot.  

I placed myself at the classroom doorway about 10 minutes before the class began. I personally greeted each person as they came in and welcomed them to their Health & Safety Refresher course. The surprised looks and giggles as people made their way to their seats made me think that my brother was pulling a prank on me. It wouldn’t be the first time.

However, as class began, I realized that I had the room’s full attention. I couldn’t remember the last time I was in front of a group that didn’t have multiple people with heads down, staring at their cell phones. This seemingly small shift in attention, began to produce something surprising. It became clear to me that the group felt acknowledged, feeling I cared about what they had to say and about their success in the class.

At the end of the session, I commented about how important they (my students) are to the institution they service. I explained that during my time in the Fire service, I had done many of the same jobs they are doing and that I respected the work and effort it took. I explained that I saw them as first responders, and that some of the things they were being asked to do are hazardous to their health and safety. When I excused the class, and everyone began to leave, one student spoke up and said, “Thank you for recognizing our value”.

I was a little surprised, as what had just taken place began to sink in. The proverbial light bulb appeared above my head with the words “employee engagement” flashing inside. My focus on the class attendees, caused them to be more engaged.  

So… my brother was not playing a prank on me. He was reinforcing and reminding me how important engagement is when attempting to communicate, to affect behavior and ultimately an organization’s culture.

The whole experience caused me to relook at some key factors that have been shown to dramatically help improve employee engagement. I’ve listed four (invest, recognize, connect and listen) which may be helpful to remember:

  1. Invest in and be involved with your people; they will feel valued and heard.
  1. Recognize achievement; when you see something that you admire, let people know.
  1. Foster a culture where people connect, founded on mutual respect.
  1. Actively listen, provide and accept good feedback, share your expertise and be willing to consider new ideas.

Employee engagement requires more than just saying it’s a key to cultural change. Action is required to engage employees and the result of those interactions will dictate if positive change will occur. I encourage you to focus on your people and consider the four factors I mentioned. Let me know if you get surprised by the results.

Josh Densberger

Josh began his career as a Firefighter for the Orange County Fire Rescue Department in Florida. He taught the principles of fire science and safety at Seminole State College. He held the position of Corporate Safety Director at Waste Pro, and is currently Corporate Safety Manager at MSE Group. Josh earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from The University of Wyoming and a Master’s degree in Fire and Emergency Management from Oklahoma State University.

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