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Cultivating a Healthy Workplace: An Interview with KPA’s Jill Schaefer & Shawn Smith

Toby Graham /
On this episode of The Safety Meeting, we chat with Jill Schaefer, Director of Content Management at KPA, and Shawn Smith, Product Director at KPA. They discuss how creating a healthy work environment goes beyond physical safety and encompasses an employee’s total experience, from the community they live in, to their home life, and everything in between.

[00:00:33]
Today, we’re joined by KPAs training content leaders, Jill Schaefer and Shawn Smith to talk about what it takes to maintain a holistically healthy workplace that goes beyond physical safety. 

Let’s begin with the basics: how would you define a healthy workplace? 

Jill: We like the definition that the world health organization has.

So they define a healthy workplace as one, in which workers and managers are collaborating in order to promote the health, safety, and wellbeing of all workers, along with the sustainability of the workplace. So that’s kind of a lot to unpack, but basically, it means that a healthy workplace takes care of its employees. That’s how I see it. Shawn, what do you think? 

Shawn: Yeah, I think especially that key of managers working with employees, everybody’s working together with the idea of let’s be healthy. And it’s not just the typical, you know, the health of, you know, as far as like physical health, it’s, it’s, it’s a lot more about the wellness of employees as, as people and you know, and their wellbeing.

[00:01:28]
So it sounds like a more comprehensive approach that’s maybe taking more into account than perhaps previous iterations of what was considered a healthy workplace would have entailed. 

Jill: Yeah, for sure. One of the things that I had read as well was basically like, A healthy workplace looks at like the culture of the workplace, as well, and how it’s functioning.

So there might be some things in a workplace that aren’t really so healthy. Like maybe people’s work-life balance is out of whack or they have a bad boss. Like that could be another thing that would really weigh heavily on their health. But it’s happening at work and it’s not something that they could necessarily negotiate by doing any sort of lifestyle or habit changes.

That’s just what’s happening at work. So it’s trying to look at things more holistically. 

[00:02:22]
Yeah, I think it’s like the next step beyond that whole kind of self-care trend that happened a couple of years ago. And now we’re moving past that, into this place of like, well, actually there’s only so much self-care you can do, especially in the workplace before you need your leadership teams to step in and help you.

And it’s a little less like self-care, a little more like care from your employers themselves. Does that make sense? Does that sound right? 

Shawn: Yeah. I think one thing to add to that though, is every workplace is different. So it’s not something where you can say, well, it worked here, so it’ll work there, but it works everywhere.

It’s really, you know, your environment, the types of jobs that your employees are doing, the kind of stress you’re dealing with on a regular basis. Everything is unique to that environment that they’re working in. And, you know, that’s where I think, you know, employee health is very different. The wellness of an employee, you know, it takes all those things into account. And nothing is just the same across the board. It can’t be applied everywhere, exactly the same. 

[00:03:25]
My next question, I think we’re kind of already answering it, but what I was going to say is there are physical health concerns and then there are health concerns that are more about holistic wellbeing.

We’ve already gotten that point across, but can you speak a little more to what a holistic healthy workplace looks like in a broader sense than maybe narrowed down to specific industries? 

Shawn: Yeah. I mean, I think it more comes down to that working together part and that identifying what those concerns are. The main thing for me is, you know, coming from years of doing safety training with lots of different types of companies and industries, it’s really easy for someone to look at, you know, hand concerns or to look at different types of physical possible places where people can get injured. And that to me is way easier to solve than something that is about how people feel or how you know about how their work-life balance is. That’s a very different thing to be thinking about, top-down. It requires participation from so many different sides, which isn’t unlike physical safety concerns that really do require everybody to participate and, you know, be part of it.

But it’s just, I think it’s just a different way of thinking and it really requires everyone to be, you know, onboard 

[00:04:47]
And kind of in the way that workplace safety from a physical perspective often comes from a place of like top-down leadership strategy or from a regulatory standpoint, like what’s OSHA telling us to do. With this kind of health, with workplace health, we’re looking more at what the employees want. It’s more about listening to your employees almost than anybody else, right? 

Shawn: Yeah. I’d agree with that. 

Jill: I’d add like wellbeing at work, I think is, you know, it’s about a lot of those intangibles that Shawn was kind of touching on, invisible things. So it’s like having a psychologically safe environment and being able to make social connections with your coworkers and with your customers, perhaps.

And I dunno, it’s so it’s a lot, it’s a, it’s a squishy territory for sure for employers to navigate because certainly, I think, you know, it would be like, well, that’s not my territory. Like I can’t handle and take on all of that for an employee. And in some ways, they don’t have to take it all on, but they do need to be willing to have some of those discussions and not be afraid of them.

[00:05:57]
So what steps tangibly can companies take to provide a healthier workplace for their employees? 

Jill: I think as we define a healthier workplace, it can be a lot of things. You know, we’ve been talking and saying like, it’s not just the physical health, but it’s also the personal health, and all of us having just gone through the pandemic, we know that there are viruses out there and things like COVID-19, which are an invisible threat. And so those also have to be addressed as part of a healthy workplace. 

Shawn: Yeah, I totally agree with that. And the thing that I think the most about is you want to make it possible for employees to make as many healthy choices as possible. I mean, you want to enable and empower and, you know, from the top down, like we said before, they have to feel comfortable that they’re being supported in that.

And you know, I mean, one way to start that is to just start the conversation to start, you know, introducing. Training content and information and, you know, give them resources that will allow them to think about how could I make healthier choices for my mental health, for my physical health, for, you know, just for my day in general?

And I, I think- that’s, to me, the key is just getting that conversation started and then keeping it going and keep moving through it. And then for every workplace, it’s going to be a little different. A super successful, healthy workplace program is going to look, I think, very different from place to place. So it’s really what’s right for your employees and for your environment.

[00:07:36]
What advice do you have for leaders who want their workers to feel safe? And supported in their work environment. 

Jill: Yeah. From my standpoint, I think that you can’t really fake caring about your employees. You just have to have that in you at some level. And I think that empathy is a tool that you can use to get there.

And so empathy is often phrased as you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, that’s not exactly it. It’s basically being able to imagine another person’s perspective, even if it’s not anything that you’ve had to deal with, or if it’s different, you know, especially if it’s different from your own experiences.

I think you’ll also need confidential ways for employees to be able to express their concerns. So if they have a safety concern or if they feel threatened at work, they need to be able to take that somewhere. And their software systems, of course, that do that. KPA is one of them, but essentially it all needs to be taken seriously investigated and acted on.

Shawn: Yeah. And I think it goes back to that encouraging, you know, from top down supervisors, employees, everybody needs to be part of the program and everybody needs to feel like they have a voice or they know how to use their voice if they have a concern or if they need help with something. You know, have those channels in place so they have the ability to really communicate about it. Cause I really do think communication is really the key to this and, and it all kind of stems from good communication. 

[00:09:12]
It sounds like there’s a lot of overlap between the way that we can cultivate these holistically healthy workplace environments and the incorporation of DEI programs into our workplace.

Does that sound accurate? 

Jill: Yeah, I think there could be parallels there. I mean, we’re just seeing more intersections, I think like where people want to be the same as they are in their personal life at work to some extent. And if they’re not being seen or heard, you know, that certainly I think affects like the diversity, equity, and inclusion movement that we are witnessing in the workplace.

[00:09:53]
And having safe and comfortable reporting mechanisms out there so that people can feel heard in a comfortable setting. 

Shawn: I also think, you know, to Jill’s point, it comes down to the culture. And that’s, that’s a big like connection, I think, to, to DEI. It’s, it’s, it’s all about culture and embracing not only your current culture, but your future culture and what you are as a company.

Five years from now, 10 years from now. And you know, that, I think, you know, also is part of that communication aspect too, but that brings everything together, you’re traveling down this path where, you know, the healthiness of your employees, I don’t think is completely not reflected in the healthiness of your company. So I think there’s a lot of connection there. 

[00:10:35]
What role does community play in maintaining a healthy workplace? 

Jill: I think it plays a huge role. I think about like the broader safety community and the health agencies, they’re going to continue to drive this, this point home that employees are human beings.

Their wellness needs to be looked at when they’re at work. When they’re not at work, it’s all integrated. And I think employers’ industry-leading metrics are going to show this too. So if a certain person is always getting hurt, investigating why that’s the case might reveal that well, that person also has some different health issues in play.

So again, kind of emphasizing that interconnectedness. And then the other thing I think about too is trends related to like food deserts or county and state health statistics. So that would certainly suggest that the community that you’re in and that you surround yourself with has an effect on your health.

[00:11:39]
Absolutely. 

Shawn: Yeah. I think, you know, just to be like to use the word community, you know, very on the nose. Your actual community has parks and has places for you to, you know, utilize your resources that are, that are local around where the workplace is that, you know, I do think are important and, you know, utilizing those as other channels for staying healthy and being healthy and making smart choices, I think are- is definitely a resource, as well.

[00:12:12]
That’s a great point in a meeting the other day. Walking meetings were brought up, you know, like going on a walk to have your meeting, if it’s something where you don’t need to be on the computer. And it got me thinking about that. It got me thinking about, you know, especially in these COVID times, how we can like still incorporate the natural environment that are around our workplaces, into how we interact with our workplace.

Any parting words of advice for our listeners, especially those who are looking to implement healthy workplaces and leaders who are trying to really take your advice to heart. 

Shawn: I would say a healthy workplace really just starts with starting. So, you know, there’s really no wrong way, in my opinion. You get started and you, you know, you start the conversation, start introducing some different options for employees, ideas, you know, give them resources and go from there and you don’t have to overnight be completely done.

It’s going to be a process it’s going to take time. 

Jill: Yeah, I would also add that, you know, since Shawn and I work in KPAs training and content departments respectfully, I mean, we’re, we know that like materials and online training is a powerful mechanism to start opening the door on some of these topics and conversations and get employers and employees thinking about it, acting about it, working together.

[00:13:39]
I think those are both great pieces of advice. Well, Shawn and Jill, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about healthy workplaces. I really appreciate it

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