IOSH’s Angela Gray and Daniel Gray of the University of Sheffield on how OSH professionals can nurture trusting relationships with colleagues.
To manage safety in the workplace, people from all levels of an organisation need to listen to advice and information from OSH professionals. Trust is important in opening the door to change in order to improve health and safety, says Angela Gray CMIOSH (pictured, right), senior OSH specialist at IOSH. ‘You cannot put a process in place that doesn’t fit with the operation. If you’re asking employees to work differently – and often it’s additional processes you’re asking them to do – it has to fit in and suit them,’ she says. Being trusted helps create the conditions for improvement.
Daniel Gray (pictured, below), a lecturer in economics at the University of Sheffield, believes building trust brings positive spillovers, which can influence a range of employee behaviours. ‘For example, trust in management is likely to influence the behaviour of employees, including behaviour or actions that have a broader benefit to the organisation, which in turn affect its performance,’ he says. ‘As a result, trust, and more broadly the relationship between managers and employees, can have important implications for a firm’s performance.’ Here’s their advice on how to develop this essential skill.
Angela: The main thing is to bring your most authentic self to work. Be natural, be normal. It’s about showing that you’re a person: ‘I’m interested in you. Tell me about the highs and lows of the job you do. I’m not trying to be a smart-ass health and safety person. I’m not going to spout legislation. I want to be supportive; I want to understand what you do.’
The worst thing an adviser can do is spout legislation but not understand how to interpret it
Daniel: Good communication mechanisms are positively related to trust: if management keeps employees informed about job changes, staffing changes and organisational changes, this will promote trust. Our findings suggest factors that restricted pay and training opportunities and resulted in changes to the job role had negative impacts on trust; these could have been mitigated by adopting clear communication with employees (Brown et al, 2015).
Angela: Speak to colleagues in the same language they talk to you. If they address you formally, you need to respond formally. Or, if they speak to you casually, be more casual with them. Mirror their style, their stance, their body language, their language and their tone. But you’ve got to be yourself, otherwise people can see through you. If you’re not being real, people know that.
Don’t use jargon
Angela: What I’ve found over the years is that professionals who come in and spout the technical stuff are the ones that people you’re trying to influence will back away from. They’ll just think: ‘You’re not listening to me; you’re not from the same planet.’ The worst thing an adviser can do is spout legislation but not understand how to interpret it in that workplace. That just annoys people and they will shut you down.
Angela explains how creating trust links to IOSH’s competency framework.If you look at the technical aspects [of the framework], we should all know there’s nothing you wouldn’t learn when you’re doing your qualifications. The core elements – strategy, planning and leadership and management – are secondary to technical, but are always there in terms of managing change, conflict management, planning, data analysis and decision-making.
Behavioural competencies bring the technical and core elements to life. Communication is important because you can’t just talk to people – you have to listen to what they’re telling you and read between the lines.
Invest in people
Daniel: Our analysis reveals that the amount of training received by employees and wages earned above the average in the industry are positively associated with employee trust (Brown et al, 2015). Generally, our results suggest that if the organisation can promote initiatives that are focused on the employee – such as offering training programmes, protecting wages and job security, managing workloads and maintaining job roles – and these actions are well communicated, this can help maintain trust between employees and managers.
Brown S, Gray D, McHardy J et al. (2015) Employee trust and workplace performance. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 116: 361-78. (accessed 3 January 2023).