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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

Safety at work means more than just making sure you don't bump your head on a low beam or trip over an exposed electrical cord. Most workplaces are not active construction sites, and the safety employees need includes knowing they won't get bullied, or intimidated by co-workers or managers and that they'll be treated fairly.

The managerial micro skill of safety can help create a "manager safe zone," defined by the degree to which employees demonstrate comfort and trust when interacting with their manager on all topics of safety in the workplace.

To develop this micro skill, managers need to demonstrate that they care about their employees' psychological and physical health.

Employees know whether managers care by the degree of effort they put into spending time and interacting with their staff.

A manager's daily behaviour affects whether employees feel psychologically and physically safe in the workplace. Managers get pulled in many directions and it's easy for them to get distracted by other pressing priorities and reduce the amount of time they spend directly interacting with staff. When practised daily this micro skill can curb psychological and physical safety risk for employees.

Managers are the conduit between employees and an organization's vision and objectives. How effectively this role is handled is directly related to an organization's results but also how happy and effective employees are at work.

Employees' psychological and physical safety are two factors the majority of employers across Canada are committed to daily. These safety factors are typically implemented in organizations through some combination of policies, training and manager support and enforcement.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety explains how organizations benefit financially when they promote and facilitate organizational and employee health.

While e-mails, written policies and group meetings are ways to communicate with employees, there is nothing more powerful than one-on-one interactions where an employee can experience a manager's expertise, energy, commitment and passion for their work. It is in these moments where employees evaluate whether their manager is talking with them or at them.

Managers can self-evaluate the degree to which they are facilitating a 'safe zone' for their employees by how often and how comfortably employees come to them to openly discuss their points of view around psychological safety, which includes concerns about stress, bullying behaviour, work demands and other issues; and physical safety, which includes concerns about equipment, policies and procedures, and 'near misses' that could have resulted in an injury. The degree of openness in these conversations where employees freely share opinions, ask questions and report issues and mistakes is also a factor.

For managers to create a safe zone requires them to remove all fear and gain employees' trust and confidence by showing their commitment to support staff so they are safe in the workplace.

One way a manager can foster this kind of relationship is to talk about safety and other issues with their employees regularly and not simply assume that employees will always come to them with their questions and problems.

As a start, a manager can ask employees:

"Do you feel safe today in the workplace?"

If a question like this is asked by a managers with a genuine interest in their employees, it can help them learn and discover how their employees are feeling truly, as well as to build a trusting manager-employee relationship.

When first asked this question, employees typically will say, "What do you mean by safe?" If a manager responds with: "What do you think I mean when I say safe in the workplace?" it creates an opportunity to engage in a conversation that is aligned to the employee's situation and the kinds of safety issues that are relevant to their personal workplace experience.

If managers aren't comfortable asking this question then they likely haven't created a 'safe zone' for their employees. Managers can develop this micro skill by asking this question to different employees at least three times a week.

Elements that shape a manager's ability to create a safe work zone include the level of comfort the manager has in talking to employees about workplace safety topics, employees' comfort talking with their manager on safety related issues or questions, and how the manager behaves during and after these conversations.

The word "safe" can uncover an employee's state of mind and their emotions about safety. In Canada, Bill C-45 refers to a manager's legal duty to prevent bodily harm. In addition, there is a growing focus on protecting employees from psychological harm.

Ideally, if managers add the safety micro skill to their daily routine, employees will feel safe to come forward when they don't feel safe about something at work. And that's the best situation for both employees and employers.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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