“How many of you don’t have somebody who is looking forward to seeing you tonight?”

That’s a question posed by Matt Hess, Director of HR HGC Group of Companies, during employee orientation sessions at HGC. “And nobody ever raises their hand when asked this question, because everyone has someone who is looking forward to seeing them each night,” says Hess.

Hess shared this story as a part of an expert panel that was brought together to discuss the foundation of a sound safety mindset—that is, employee engagement. (Hess was joined on the panel by Cathleen Snyder, Director of Client Relations strategic HR Inc. and Mike Hart, Risk Director at Verst Group Logistics.)

Here are 3 of the top takeaways shared by Hess about how to engage with a worker who has been injured.

1. Engagement starts prior to any injury or incident.

Hess shared just how important engagement is prior to any unforeseen incident or accident. When he asks employees about who is looking forward to seeing them when they go home safe at night, he’s looking to bring their work—and their safety—into perspective.

“Asking that question puts things in perspective for a little bit that, it’s not just that one person or their job—it’s also a lot of other people counting on them to come home, and to be healthy,” says Hess. “We want to look out for one another.

Engagement is amplified when the team is collectively looking out for one another, a point made clear by Hess. “The example is: you have somebody on a swivel chair at work [using it as if it’s a ladder]. What we’re trying to get them to do is not hold the swivel chair; we want them to say, ‘Hey, get off the chair. I’ll be right back when I get a ladder for you.’ It’s that cultural aspect we’re looking for,” explained Hess.

2. Trust that your people want to do the work.

But how do you react if an employee does become injured? Hess explained there are two modes of management he sees. Theory X of management is when leaders assume employees are lazy, and will avoid work if they can. These are managers who believe their workers inherently dislike their work.

And then there is Theory Y of management, Hess explained. This is a mode where management assumes employees are ambitious, self-motivated and exercise control. Managers who adopt this mindset believe employees enjoy mental and physical work duties, and that work is as natural as play. These leaders recognize that both work and play are necessary to be a healthy human being.

Hess said he aligns with Theory Y: that when you hire right, your people do want to be great, and given the right environment, the right tools, those people will be great. Similarly, if this kind of worker becomes injured, Hess believes they do in fact want to get back to work.

“So that’s what we’re responsible for, as leaders in our organization, is to provide the right environment so that everybody can excel, and so that they can go home, feel good, come back, and feel good—that is the kind of place we want to create.” Hess argued that this inherently drives engagement, not only in work, but in life.

Maintain this mindset when communicating with an injured worker. “Organizations can be so policy-driven that [they can] lose common sense sometimes. People fully people want to be good, and people want to be brave, and if you give them enough latitude they will be,” explained Hess.

3. Empathy needs to underpin all communication.

When leaders assume that their people are self-motivated, and that they exercise control and that they do want to be healthy, communication with an injured worker can be more positive, and just as important, it can be more effective.

The best way to approach the situation is through communication that reflects the care, compassion, and empathy you have for the injured person.

“[One of the best things] that we can do for someone who doesn’t want to be hurt in the first place…is to let them know that they’re missed, and that they’re valuable. Let them know that we need them back, because believe it or not, they have a lot of control over whether or not their therapy goes well,” explained Hess. Most managers will have good intentions about connecting with an injured colleague, but a more formalized follow-up process can make sure this happens in an optimal way for the organization.

If you hire right, keep workers engaged, and have the right approach to showing you care, every employee can be an embodiment of safety, workers can back to work quickly, and you can improve your outcomes.

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