There is a common saying that safety is everyone’s responsibility. What about culture? What is culture, and how does it affect safety and the work environment as a whole?
What is Culture?
Culture can be defined in many different ways. A basic definition is “culture is the character and personality of an organization”. An interesting definition is provided by the CEO of AirBnb, Brian Chesky, in a letter about culture to his employees and why it is important to a company. He defined culture as: “a shared way of doing something with passion.”
Combining these two definitions together may make for an even better explanation. Culture is how what you do and how you do it, and the effects it has on the character and personality of the organization as a whole and vice versa.
Building the Culture
In Chesky’s letter, he goes on to discuss that building culture is done through living the core values of an organization. He states: “We have the power, by living the (core) values, to build the culture. We also have the power, by breaking the values, to mess up the culture. Each one of us has this opportunity, this burden.”
To further explain himself, he discusses why culture is so important to a business. He states: “Why is culture so important to a business? Here is a simple way to frame it. The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous… Ever notice how families or tribes don’t require much process? That is because there is such a strong trust and culture that it supersedes any process. In organizations (or even in a society) where culture is weak, you need an abundance of heavy, precise rules and processes.”
Culture and Workplace Safety
Using the words written in this letter about building culture and its benefits of it, we can apply it to workplace safety. A company that truly takes action to ensure the safety of its employees, in turn, makes caring about employees’ well-being one of its core values.
Everyone plays a part in the culture on the job and in building the culture (or breaking it). When it comes to safety, the value of caring about your own well-being as well as those around you builds the culture. Actions such as following safety rules, safe work practices, and stopping work to address hazards are some basic examples of living the core value of caring about everyone’s well-being on the job. When employees do not want to follow the rules, put others at risk for injury, or take shortcuts, then the culture is weakened.
You, as an individual worker, play a part in the larger culture of the company. If a large part of the workforce on a job is taking shortcuts and ignoring basic safety rules, what can be said about the culture there?
The Benefit of Building the Culture
There is a benefit to everyone at a work site when the culture is built on positive core values. Referring back to the letter, where the CEO states: “The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous.”
When the individuals of a workforce demonstrate that they are committed to living the value of caring for each other’s well-being (safety) then there is much more autonomy and trust that is built. Meaning, that rules and discipline are not needed to enforce safety; it becomes what is done. This allows for the entire workforce to be able to enjoy a work environment that is more relaxed, respectful, and overall enjoyable to work at compared to working in a place where there is no trust, no autonomy, and where heavy rules and processes are relied on to attempt to force employees to take certain actions.
Culture is closely connected to safety on the job. When individuals choose to work safely and care about the well-being of each other, the culture can be strengthened. When a strong culture is in place through living the core values set by the company, everyone reaps the benefit of working in a safer and more enjoyable workplace.