You’re a responsible employee with ample experience. And, of course, you value safety. So, when you see something at work that sets off alarm bells, it’s important to inform your boss. But all too often, leaders brush aside employee safety concerns. Worse, raising these issues in the wrong way can create lasting tensions.
“Workplace health and safety concerns can easily trigger visceral reactions in employees that aren’t really very helpful,” says Dr Simon Burgess, a lecturer in management at the University of New England.
“When you’re truly worried about something, there’s a deeply human temptation to get on your high horse and declare the organisation’s management to be incompetent. But if you carry on, the discussion won’t be very productive.”
If you’ve struggled to make your safety concerns heard in the past, consider these steps in the future.
Avoid anger and blame
“Most safety-related concerns can be raised in a blame-free way,” Burgess says. “By simply seeking to have the problem addressed—rather than having anyone blamed for it—you can generally get it addressed more quickly.”
Although it may seem tricky to convey the gravity of your safety concerns without using negative tactics, experts say maintaining positivity is crucial to workplace communication.
“No matter how good your working relationship, you can’t expect your boss to welcome your negativity,” communications expert Judith Humphrey says.
When raising a safety issue, Humphrey recommends avoiding the term “problem” and not blaming anyone. “Just focus on the matter in question and how you’d suggest fixing it,” she says.
Consider your boss’s feelings
It’s easy to forget superiors also have emotional vulnerabilities, so keeping their feelings in mind can improve your chances of being heard.
“Bosses who are any good will always be receptive to feedback but, like most of us, they fear embarrassment,” Burgess says.
Instead of trying to make your boss fearful about a safety issue, consider raising it in a way that appeals to their self-interest.
“Think about shared aims,” Burgess says. “See if you can explain how your suggestion will help your boss meet his or her goals, and how it will help the organisation to meet its goals. It’s also a good idea if you can outline a few different alternatives, which will demonstrate your flexibility.”
Use the right format
According to veteran management expert Anne Pauker Kreitzberg, president of design and user-experience consultancy Cognetics, the method you use to convey information to your boss can make a big difference.
“If your boss is a visual person, prepare something in writing so she can see your major points,” she suggests. “If your boss is an auditory person, focus on what you’re going to say.”
Also consider delivering your message about safety in a group.
“Raising a concern as a group will often be more effective than broaching the matter alone,” Burgess says. “But you’re not going to achieve much if you just front up to the boss’s office as an angry mob. It’s far better to try to create an atmosphere in which each party is prepared to understand the other’s interests.”
Stay up to date
Get weekly wisdom from iAuditor straight to your inbox.
With a free iAuditor account