There’s a serious disconnect in the frontline workspace. Many businesses are unaware that over 58% of employees believe the risk of being physically harmed on the job is rising. Additionally, 40% of them reported an increase in concerns about personal safety just in the last year. They no longer feel safe.
There are a few reasons that impact why workers feel this way, but the biggest concern of all is that many leaders in management fail to recognize this anxiety. The good news is that companies can use technology to address workplace safety and health concerns to effectively restore their workers’ trust and retain more frontline employees.
Why Many Frontline Workers Fear for Their Safety and Health
There are several factors that feed the growing worry among employees that they might get injured while working.
First, many job roles place people at the forefront of the company’s operations, exposing them to more potential hazards than, say, an employee who only works in the office. Those who are in direct contact with dangerous machinery or the public face more potential dangers.
For example, about 69% of healthcare workers worry about erratic or aggressive patients and visitors. About 59% also regularly fear they might be physically assaulted. In retail, things aren’t much better, with over half of the workforce (about 58%) being concerned about customers who behave in erratic or aggressive ways.
Employee well-being and performance are also affected by socioeconomic conditions. Those who live close to the bread line, for example, face heightened susceptibility to workplace injuries due to factors such as long commutes, increased responsibilities, inadequate sleep, and preexisting health conditions. These stressors compel them to remain in potentially hazardous work environments even when feeling unsafe, as they lack the financial means to quit and seek safer employment opportunities.
Another determining factor is changes in the workplace. This landscape is always evolving, and it causes a degree of employee apprehension. Perhaps they’ve heard stories about how new work processes or changes are negatively affecting their colleagues, or perhaps they’re experiencing it themselves. Either way, the negative emotional impact adds to this perceived increase in danger.
Why Leaders Fail to Realize or Acknowledge the Problem
When leadership fails to prioritize the importance of employee health and safety, it isn’t always a case of callous disregard. It’s more often the result of a complex combination of organizational and cognitive factors.
One of the main reasons for this disconnect is that most leaders aren’t working under the same frontline conditions as employees. This creates a distance or an unawareness of the day-to-day frontline struggles, causing management to underestimate just how severe the safety concerns truly are.
Managers are also bogged down by their own pressures and worries. They must meet financial targets and maintain productivity. Such company cultures may inadvertently deprioritize employee engagement and workplace safety to meet business goals.
Poor communication also plays a role. When there aren’t any effective communication channels in place, it can prevent the effective transfer of concerns from workers to higher levels. It can also hamper crucial safety messages from reaching every employee.
What Will Happen if Businesses Continue to Ignore It?
Nobody wins. For employees, the risk of injury might be realized. Morale and productivity will almost certainly continue to fall.
This will cause a cascade of negative repercussions throughout the organization. Absenteeism could increase, and word-of-mouth stories from current or former employees can also prevent future talent from joining the company.
A disregard for safety measures or injured workers also opens a company up to legal action, settlements, and potentially large financial losses. It can also tarnish its reputation within the industry and community, exacerbating issues such as strikes and labor disputes.
The Benefits of Using the Right Technology
Technology offers valuable benefits that often spread beyond improving employee health and safety. Appropriate solutions can automate safety protocols, ensuring safety measures and checks not only are regularly performed but also eliminate the danger of human error.
Technology can facilitate better communication across all strata of workers and management and even foster a company culture in which speaking up about safety concerns is encouraged. Employees can give valuable feedback about which measures work or fail to work on the front line, giving leaders the opportunity to tailor the situation better.
When employees see that management is prioritizing their well-being by implementing technology-driven solutions to protect their health and safety, it leads to greater retention rates; better talent comes on board; and company culture becomes more productive, engaged, and motivated. Here are a few ways organizations can help frontline workers feel safe by using technology:
Employees can gain more confidence via training. This can happen in a more traditional way by learning from an online course or through virtual reality (VR) simulations. These interactive lessons are not only fun but also invaluable in placing employees in a “dangerous” situation and teaching them how to respond without being in any jeopardy. If a mistake is made during a VR simulation, a module pops up to guide learners down the right path. They can practice as often as they like with no risk of being injured.
An app offers employees a user-friendly hub where they receive real-time safety alerts and access to all safety guidelines. A mobile app can even give workers the opportunity to report incidents or concerns.
Another effective solution is to create a platform for employees where they can go to share safety-related concerns, feedback, and suggestions. This shows workers that management values their input in the ongoing process of making their working conditions safer.
Great strides have been made in the field of safety-related wearable devices. They often come with sensors that monitor a person’s physical fatigue and vital signs, as well as observe environmental conditions. When the sensors pick up on any potential health concerns or environmental hazards, they usually trigger an alert to both supervisors and workers. Such wearables convey the message that employees’ safety is a high priority for leaders.
With so many frontline workers having safety worries, taking the necessary steps to create a safer environment requires immediate action. Frontline workers face unique hazards already, and with so many changes in work processes and socioeconomic factors, their fears are only amplified. When leaders fail to see this, the neglect has harmful effects all around. To ensure a safer and more productive workplace, it’s crucial for businesses to embrace technology-driven solutions, bridging the gap between frontline concerns and effective action.
Merel van der Lei is the CEO and CPO of Wyzetalk, a digital employee experience platform that enables communication and improves engagement for frontline and non-desk workers. With over 20 years of experience, van der Lei has a wealth of knowledge in business and product strategy, product leadership and product management, smart and creative innovation, and product design.