Building Inclusive Workplaces.
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This building’s construction, along with many other New York buildings, unfortunately claimed many peoples’ lives. This was at the height of the Great Depression and most people were just grateful to have a job, albeit a dangerous one. “The pay was good. The thing was, you had to be willing to die,” said Jim Rasenberger, author of High Steel: The Daring Men Who Built the World’s Greatest Skyline.
This photo, as well as documenting this seminal building’s construction, is often used as a way for us to reflect on how our attitudes have changed towards safety and how we value human life. These workers were hundreds of feet above the ground, not tied on, with little consideration for their safety. The photo gives us some insight into what was considered normal or acceptable at the time.
There is no doubt that our relationship to the safety of people at work has changed significantly since the 1930s. The way we now build these type of buildings is much safer, with the expectation that no one dies or even gets injured during their construction. Our relationship to and definition of safety, at work has shifted in many other significant ways.
We have moved beyond safety being the absence of harm done to people. Today, we consider that Safety is one of humankind’s most fundamental concerns. In everything we undertake, we all hope to emerge on the other side intact, free from harm and having learned something from the experience we can take into the next endeavour.
Physical safety is one aspect of what we now understand by the phrase Safety at Work, which includes mental and emotional health, often described as Psychological Safety. We seek to do no harm to people who work with us and we aim to send them home having developed in all aspects of their lives. Through their experience of work, they are happier and as a result have better lives.
When we create safe environments, that are free from fear, where people bring their full selves to work, we see that trust and collaboration emerge. When there is fear, for example, of losing one’s job, of the hierarchy and not feeling good enough, it is almost impossible for us to be creative or innovative as we are always holding something back.
Physiologically, our bodies unconsciously shut down these non-essentials and focuses all our energies on dealing with the threat, whether this is imagined or real. Conversely, when we feel supported and cared for, trust and collaboration emerge. When we bring our full selves to work, we are more engaged and connected with the working environment we are in and hence we are safer.
I had the privilege to be shown around Google’s headquarters in Zurich. Google is one of the most innovative companies and knows that they must create a safe environment for their people. Not to attract and retain the best talent but to enable them to do their best work. As you walk around, you are struck by the openness of the offices and yet people are working intimately in small teams. The flexible working hours and the fun they build into the working environment results in people loving being at work.
These are all the physical parts of the office they provide. You are conscious of the care they show every member of their team, the fact that innovation is both encouraged and expected. They promote and accelerate new ideas and rapidly create teams around them. People are encouraged to work on whatever inspires them and have fun doing it.
These are some of the ways that Google creates a safe environment for its people, encouraging innovation and creativity. This is an example of how safety has become an enabler of organisational performance.
When people feel safe, they bring their full genuine selves to work which enables them to thrive and their organisation to thrive. We call these organisations Why-Based Organisations and they have four key attributes, over and above normal organisations.
To continue the conversation of how to start to create these organisations, we have produced a short three-part video series on becoming a thriving organisation and would love for you to contribute to the conversation.
I would love to hear your thoughts.