Safety complacency may not be the problem

Concerned about complacency? Careful. Complacency may not be the problem. Find out if it is the problem at your workplace.


Ever had a bad customer experience that you told your friends about? Maybe a restaurant or retail experience? I’ll bet the main complaint was poor service. People not connected to their work don’t really care about how they do the work. That means, they have little concern for your experience. If they did, they would be focused on making sure it was good enough for you to want to come back.

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What’s interesting is that every disengaged employee has a supervisor or manager. When those very same supervisors fail to address the issues, when they let things go, they let the standards and expectations slide. Without a supervisor holding them accountable, the employee isn’t going to get any better. They won't improve and without a standard for improvement, there is nothing driving good performance. When it seems like the work doesn't matter, it creates  disengagement.

But in the safety world, we’re a little too quick to say it’s complacency. But, is it really?

Complacency is assumed to be the problem

There is a problem created by being too quick to assume complacency is at the foundation of performance issues. It gets in the way of assessing the real problems and issues you might be facing. One of those issues often overlooked is assuming that your people are engaged and connected to their work. If you have been trying to connect your people to safety before ensuring the they are connected to their work, you will mask performance issues which otherwise might be easily remedied.

People who are not fully engaged in their work are not fully engaged in safety.

How can you expect people to focus on safely doing the work they aren’t connected to? Addressing complacency when it's an issue of standards and engagement levels falling won’t fix the problem.

When people make little safety mistakes, most times it’s because they’re just not fully present. They may have zoned out, were distracted, or they’re not connected to their work, their employer and the people they work with.

When no one is holding employees to a higher standard, standards will slip. People may be there physically but not mentally. That’s not complacency. That’s a lack of engagement due to a lack of ongoing and consistent coaching.

When no one is holding employees to a higher standard, standards will slip.

If you'd like to get started on battling complacency at the front-line, then take the Free Preview of the Safety Communications & Coaching for Supervisors course. 40-minutes of video instruction, summary sheet download PDFs and a companion MP3 audio version to take with you on the go. And it's free to get started.

Takeaway Strategy

Go back over your last 3 months of what you believe are complacency issues. In each instance, look where maybe you could have coached your team a little better in the previous days. Look for the times you could have spent more time engaging and inspiring, or just connecting with your people more at a personal level. (Warning: talking about numbers and procedures is not how you connect with and engage your people.)

Before you convince yourself that complacency is the problem, let’s figure out if you could be spending more time and effort creating a connection to your team and their work. Coaching is not a one-and done thing. Coaching never ends.

SCCS Banner WebsiteTake the FREE preview lesson of Kevin's course Safety Communications & Coaching for Supervisors. 40-minutes of video instruction, summary download PDFs and a companion audio MP3 version to take with you on the go. SCCS is an online course to help energize safety, build teamwork, and get employee buy-in.

Kevin Burns, consultant/author, works with smart, caring companies to energize safety culture, build teamwork, and get employee buy-in. KevBurns Learning is committed to to helping companies improve safety by improving people, through creative learning materials, virtual strategy sessions, safety meeting presentations, and team coaching programs.

In 2020, named PeopleWork #7 of The Top 44 Workplace Safety Books of All Time. Buy yourself a copy of PeopleWork: The Human Touch in Workplace Safety and give another as a gift to a colleague.

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Topics: safety complacency