Three days of interactive sessions that challenged beliefs, answered questions and inspired motivation constituted the virtual Future Leaders conference in March. We bring you some of the highlights.
Equipping the next generation of OSH professionals with the skills and resources to tackle ‘the challenges of today and tomorrow’ was the main aim of the Future Leaders conference, IOSH president Jimmy Quinn said in his opening address.
‘Some of these challenges are a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the role of the OSH professionals in protecting the health and safety and wellbeing of the workforce,’ he added.
And while the move to a more virtual world can have drawbacks, he said, it also makes events like this more accessible and inclusive.
Evolving health and safety: Lead by example
After a talk that charted her OSH journey to become head of safety at the BBC, Zoe Davies offered pearls of wisdom during a Q&A session.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome?
At the age of 36, it’s definitely there because you think people in leadership jobs are much older. But I did training on how to change cortisol [the stress hormone] into adrenaline. A previous manager used to say when I was nervous: ‘You’re the subject matter expert.’
Tips for prioritising?
Do one thing at a time and do it well. Don’t let perfection get in the way of good; sometimes good is okay.
What drives your passion for OSH?
I’m motivated for change; in the workplace and in the safety profession, ensuring we are relevant to what organisations need now.
Other top tips from Zoe...
- Social sustainability is where health and safety really finds its feet: find out what people need from the places they live and work.
- OSH isn’t always about financial risks and fines: brush up on selling the reputational risks, for example by listening to safety and non-safety podcasts on human capital.
- Be like Madonna or David Bowie, open to reinventing yourself.
- Understand the past, challenge the present, shape the future – a mantra from University College London, where Zoe studied.
Putting wellbeing first
Many sessions noted that wellbeing should not be an ‘optional extra’ but stay integral to the OSH approach (see Being your best self, below). Dr Stephanie Fitzgerald, senior business partner – mental health at Rolls-Royce, a neuropsychologist by background, gave tips on improving wellbeing at work.
- While it’s useful and practical to be in autopilot mode most of the time, the benefits can cease when it comes to risk assessment and mitigating procedures.
- A major distraction is pressure to get the job done quickly, which makes staff focus far less on safety.
- Although good managers care about their employees, too often expectations are placed on the schedule and task instead of safety.
- Distractions can never be fully eliminated from workplaces, but research suggests removing mobile phones eventually means happier employees.
- Working routines need to be changed to include wellness. Considering health first means safety will follow.
Fix systems, not workers
Two interactive sessions with Teresa Swinton, founder and owner of Paradigm Human Performance, explored human and organisational performance and the need to remove negativity around accountability in the workplace.
Top polls from across the sessions included:
- Are there two sets of rules in your organisation (a policy and procedure manual and how you actually do things)? Yes – 62%; no – 25%; unsure – 13%
- Who do you think wrote the second ‘manual’? Responses ranged from operations to employees to line managers.
- Which words would you like to remove from the safety dialogue? Fault, blame, compliance, process and bad practice were among the most popular.
But it’s not the words that are bad, argued Teresa – it’s the context. ‘We need to move away from fixing the worker towards fixing the system,’ she said.
Being your best self: Lighten the digital burden
A Q&A session with Geoff McDonald, a business transformation adviser and mental health campaigner, and Laura Willis, co-founder of Shine Offline, which helps forge healthier digital workplace culture, revealed thought-provoking insights during their digital wellbeing session.
Is being hyper-connected affecting productivity in the workplace?
Laura: I like to think in terms of performance rather than productivity, because it’s not just about when you’re at work but it’s everywhere, and it can interrupt and distract us. Of participants in our programmes, 97% sit with their phone on their desk and 94% with their inbox open all day. As a result, about 75% of people in the last 12 months have told us they’re overloaded by technology during their working time.
Why don’t wellbeing programmes within organisations tend to stick?
Geoff: There are four reasons:
- Wellbeing is not seen as a strategic priority by many organisations.
- There’s no organisational accountability to keep people healthy at work, although lots to keep people safe. I urge you as Future Leaders of the profession – it’s health before safety. When people are healthy they’re more safe.
- There’s no individual accountability to maintain the most important driver of people’s performance: their health. We should be having performance development conversations twice a year around health to drive individual accountability.
- When it comes to health as an enabler of performance, we don’t have a change programme behind it. We have a wellbeing week, then go back to the old.
Should health and safety become separate?
Geoff: It’s a lovely thought. Some organisations are employing wellbeing officers. But these individuals have so much to learn from safety professionals. If we’re going to separate it, there’s got to be collaboration.
In the UK in 2017, there were 25 deaths in construction due to accidents – but more than 400 due to suicide in the same industry.
We need leaders to think about being compassionate, not narcissists. Let’s hope we take that through as we move beyond COVID.
Farewell to Zoom fatigue
Executive coach Sarah Brummitt shared helpful tips on being engaging – and engaged – in the virtual world, including:
- Always have your camera on: ‘People who are visible are influential.’
- A neutral, tidy, authentic background is best.
- Beware distractions, such as texts coming through.
- Look at the camera – it’s the closest thing to looking people in the eye.
- Be concise: ‘Say less, mean more.’
- Don’t overdo slides: ‘We have to create a positive, memorable experience.’
Nurturing the next generation: Be the change
Is there a lack of diversity and inclusion in OSH? A panel discussion raised some thought-provoking points…
IOSH’s president-elect Louise Hosking said that, as a profession, ‘We’re a very narrow demographic, yet we need mixes of people.’ Research on gender equality looking at 273 top global companies, she added, showed 15% of senior health and safety roles were held by women, against 29% of men at the same level. ‘It’s the elephant in the room we need to start talking about,’ Louise added.
There’s not only a gender divide, added Sunit Atwal, regional health and safety manager (London) at Unite Students, who suggested the profession was ‘missing a trick by hiring people from engineering and science backgrounds’ when it should be recruiting from industries such as construction. ‘We’re creating homogenous teams,’ she added. ‘The only way we’re going to drive things forward is to get more diverse people.’
United Living Group’s Shamim Bukenya, SHEQ adviser at United Living Group, pointed out that while organisations may want to address the lack of inclusivity, ‘the choice is not there’. ‘People do not think of the health and safety profession as a first choice,’ she said. ‘As Future Leaders we need to spread the message that there’s a lot of opportunities in health and safety, even if you don’t have an educational background.’
Quote of the conference
‘Safety is incredibly sexy…’
SNC Lavalin’s John Green discussed the bright future of the profession with Zoe Davies of the BBC and Heineken’s Petra Van Dieren.
Soft skills matter
Here are top tips from Siemens’ Louise Ward, Dr Surindar Dhesi of the University of Birmingham and Principal People’s Josh Huggins for aspiring OSH professionals on sharpening their soft skills ready for the world of work:
- Think about the people in your life in business that you can talk to. What are their bugbears with their health and safety department? Collaborate with a range of different stakeholders – Josh
- It’s not just the technical knowledge I want, it’s the individual as a person and what they might bring. The role you take in the home, for example – Louise
- Have a solutions-focused mindset, even at the start of your career. When we look at our favourite people that we’ve worked with over the years, that’s the sort of people they are: positive problem-solvers – Surindar
Steering Group’s top takeaways
Chloe Hughes, Rolls-Royce: Being the change you want to see is very clear in this conference; having a bit more self-belief is important. Reach out to us whenever you need to chat because we really want to support you.
Liam Kelly, Trim Formworks: There are different pathways to the top. So don’t be discouraged by knockbacks. That’s just part of life, unfortunately. So stick with it – it’s a good profession to be involved in.
Jason Kamalu, Wacot: I’ve learned so much in this conference: all the speakers have been experts in their areas. I’ve also been able to network and interact with friends from Nigeria. I shared my advice with them on how they can get into the industry when they return to Nigeria.
Hayley Wright, Ministry of Defence: Now is the perfect time to make the change to innovate. It’s an opportune moment. So, let’s really go for it. It’s really exciting to see where the Future Leaders Community is going, how it’s going to progress.
Robert Jukes, Wax Lyrical: Don’t be afraid to think differently and do a different thing. ‘The electric light bulb didn’t come from the continuous improvement of the candle’ – I love that quote [from Zoe Davies’ presentation]. So just make those connections and go out there and do stuff.
James MacPherson, Glass and Glazing Federation: We as a profession are evolving in what we do and how we see ourselves and the skills that define us. And there is a hell of a lot of work that the big organisations have still got to do to support our community.
Philip Lancashire, Games Workshop: The future of the health and safety industry is in our hands, which is why the Future Leaders Community wants to raise the profile of OSH as a first-choice career and improve the help and support on offer to the next-generation leaders.
Sunit Atwal, Unite Students: Spend time understanding what makes you stand out from the rest and find an organisation that appreciates this. Together we will continue to rebel against the norm and lead our profession to greatness.
Watch any of the sessions on catch-up at bit.ly/FL-conference-2021