The Wisdom of Sergeant Esterhaus

1 Jul

“And hey, let’s be careful out there.”

For fans of television’s Hill Street Blues, this is the admonition that Sergeant Phil Esterhaus proffers at the end of roll call to his fellow police officers as they head out to face the dangers that unfolded each week on the 1980’s Steven Bochco drama. It turns out companies who are recognized as “Best-Places-to-Work” have leaders much like Sergeant Esterhaus, who are effectively managing employees in a way that creates a more productive and safe work environment. Consider the following comments from employees who work at highly engaged workplaces:

“I have worked in this industry my entire career and have never come across an employer more concerned about safety than our company. Nobody gets placed on a job here until they have completed an intense safety training course. And continuing education is not an option. We will shut down a job before we proceed any further if the safety issues aren’t 100% in order. There are no exceptions. Everybody comes home at night.”

“We have a great, safe office!  We have gone more than 7 years being incident-free and injury-free and were recently given an award by the president of the company personally at a celebration.  Our office is used as the bar in most other offices globally.  The atmosphere here is much different in our office due to our camaraderie and caring for one another.”

The leaders at these companies have taken approaches that are making a significant difference. Several independent studies support the idea that a more engaged workforce is a safer workforce. One such study showed that after factory floor workers were given the training and freedom to make repairs to their own equipment rather than having to call a supervisor every time they had a problem, they reported fewer occupational injuries and increased job satisfaction.

Contrast that with the employers we see reflected in the comments of their disaffected employees, for whom the idea of engagement is no more real than the dramas we see on our television screens:

“Most people are job-scared– too much negative reinforcement.  Management is more concerned about the Pay-For-Performance than the safety of the workers. They are so busy cutting costs that they don’t care about the safety factors involved in maintaining our heavy equipment and cranes.  Managers speak out the side of their mouths.”

“I have been an OR nurse for over 20 years and this is by far the worst surgery department I have ever worked in.  Management does not treat employees with respect, nor do employees feel as if they are valued members of a team.  Managers are also unprofessional and condescending.  If you asked the Registered Nurses why they remain at the hospital, the overwhelming response would be because of the money.    In addition, patient safety is often compromised and nothing is done to rectify the problems.” 

“I work between shifts and the manager for the second half of my shift is a total loser. She can get the schedule correct and just does not know to manage. They have put into effect practices with total disregard for the safety of the employees. With constant standing, many employees, me included, are having leg, knee, leg, and back problems.”

According to the U.S. government an injured worker spends an average of eight days away from work. A bit of sage advice applies here: “prepare and prevent, don’t repair and repent”.  More employers should take a Sergeant Esterhaus approach to safety and employee engagement.

As we think about the steps we should take to create and maintain a great workplace, let’s be careful out there.  It all starts with caring enough to take action.

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