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Safety, Silliness, Systems And Self-Esteem


For reasons that will become quickly evident, I am unable to use the name or location of the specific hardware store where the following events occurred.

I had a small paper list of four hardware items I needed. I went to my local hardware store. It’s one of those big ones that stock everything, even things you didn’t know existed and several items that don’t actually exist. It has many aisles and acres of area – indoors and out.

I walked in without buying a hotdog but walked in slowly to optimise my exposure to the hotdog smell on a chilly winter’s morning. I was greeted by the greeter. I made it as far as the central area between the rows and rows of aisles and the checkouts. This oh-so-keen and obviously-new-guy in a spotless uniform asked me if I needed any help. I say I don’t as I know where everything is. He says I couldn’t know where EVERYTHING is. (And it was THE WAY he said it.) I glare. It degenerates into a good-natured debate. Other staff are attracted to the drama. A challenge develops. It’s him versus me in a race to get my four items and return to the cashiers. So, it’s product knowledge AND logistics AND footspeed.

Go! I beat him to the torch batteries, scramble to a draw at the double-sided tape and I have a decent lead by the tomato food but it all peters out as they don’t stock the 4th item – disinfectant spray. Hardware is the winner on the day. So you those of you who say I have no life – wrong! I have THIS life. Others of you might say the real question is WHY do I need disinfectant spray?

(Whilst these events did actually happen to me, this concept is going to be my reality TV show pitch and on everyone’s list will always be a knife and you’ll be allowed to use whatever’s on your list to stop your opponent. ‘The Block’ meets ‘The Hunger Games.’ Copyright Terry Williams 2013 All Rights Reserved.)

So anyway, this month’s issue of Employment Today is about health and wellness in the workplace. I didn’t see any senior management leap into the fray and scold anyone for what we were up to. Were we creating an unsafe workplace? We both had shoes on. We weren’t running with scissors. But one of us could have shoulder-charged an arthritic granny around a blind corner as she reached exposed and vulnerable for one of those extender-claw grabbers for less tall old people with high shelves.

Health and safety in the workplace often comes down to personal responsibility and the choices made by people in the moment or across a period of time. Robust systems control and limit discretion in the direction of safety but humans are a hard mob to totally limit and control. People aren’t always great at making sensible choices in the short or long term. Now, I’ll admit the following statement is not one I’ve literally heard in line at a KFC but it’s one I imagine is implied via subtext, “Yeah, I’ll get the tower works combo, side of potato and gravy, the spicy double down, a jumbo diet Pepsi and… a low self esteem please.” People regularly make poor choices in their behaviours ‘in the now’ that affects their wellness long-term.

Those of you who attended the SafeGuard national health and safety conference in June would have seen Fonterra’s presentation of their research findings into the connection between employee engagement and a safer workplace. Second-to-last in the list of drivers of employee engagement were financial incentives. The top three were: What other people are doing around me; regular performance feedback conversations; and my boss’s behaviour. In a nutshell these three are outcomes of frontline leadership and frontline leadership systems. The smart money in the hands of senior management would be well invested in frontline leadership development, with proven, demonstrable returns in safety outcomes (and productivity and profit too.) More profit means more tax for the Government and maybe NZ On Air for funding my reality show. C’mon kiwis, get behind ‘The Hardware Games.’







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