OHS Canada Magazine

OHS is at the heart of sustainability and resilience

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May 30, 2022
By OHS Canada

Environment/Climate Change Health & Safety Human Resources

Photo: iStock/Getty Images Plus

By Lynn Brownell

If you ever watched an episode of Friday Night Lights, you might be familiar with the expression “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” the coach’s mantra to his football team before every game. It reminded the players that if they had their hearts in the game and a clear vision of what was before them, they couldn’t lose – even if they didn’t win on the scoreboard every time.

Those words inspired hope and resilience and embodied a shared vision and unwavering support for one another.

If COVID has taught us anything, it is that we need to create this culture and experience in our workplaces.

To build resilient and sustainable organizations, employees must feel safe, supported, engaged, and inspired.

When people think of sustainability-related corporate actions, few think of keeping people healthy and safe. A recent article in Strategy pointed out that consumers are tuning out sustainability messaging from brands. It suggests that “messaging may be tuned out because it doesn’t meet consumer standards for meaningful action on sustainability — something that is important for them to take seriously.”


Nothing is more important than employee wellbeing. However, this article reveals that it doesn’t register as meaningful action toward sustainability in our collective consciousness. Organizations must protect the planet and people.

Culture of safety critical to attract, retain talent

If there was ever any doubt, you needn’t look further than Workplace Safety & Prevention Services’ latest Health and Safety Leadership Survey. There was near universal agreement that a culture of health and safety is critical to attracting and retaining talent, and 98 per cent of respondents agreed it is key to sustainability.

Think about all that exists in your business today that wasn’t there two years ago. The pandemic has challenged us in so many ways. It has also shown us that we can accomplish great things when we communicate meaningfully with one another, stay focused on the road ahead, and strive to keep one another healthy and safe.

Many businesses, including our own, achieved in months what would have previously taken years.

And, in the early days of the pandemic, we were completing critical projects within days and weeks.

We may be starting to emerge from operating in crisis mode, but that doesn’t mean innovation can or should stop. We can’t decelerate. Our customers’ needs are changing, and we need to move in lockstep with them or we will quickly become irrelevant. We must be nimble and fluid, and to do this, we need healthy and resilient employees who trust us and feel inspired to continue this journey with us.

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen leaders who designed strategy without considering capacity and resilience at the peril of many employees, and, in some cases, the organization.

Today, I feel fortunate to be surrounded by leaders who understand that you must have your finger on the pulse of the organization and take employees on a journey of growth and innovation that does not break them and instead fills their hearts and minds.

Forums allow leaders to have critical conversations

The CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network, the National Safety Council in the US, and the Conference Board of Canada are just a few examples of forums where I engage in critical conversations with other leaders about the role we must play in the future world of work, diversity equity, and inclusion, and keeping people healthy and safe.

Another frequent topic of discussion is the vital role that managers play in our success and sustainability. They manage programs and work, but they lead people. If they aren’t tethered to strategic conversations and don’t feel heard or supported, they won’t be inspired to follow senior leaders or create followship of their own.

The coaches’ words in Friday Night Lights would have fallen flat if he didn’t have the assistant coaches working with him to create and sustain that culture. The same is true for managers. We need to bring them on the journey to get our organizations where we need to go.

I’m not the same leader I was two years ago. I’ve grown, and so have the other leaders in our organization.

In many ways, I feel more connected to employees than I did before, even though we’ve been physically distant from one another.

Our leadership team asks more questions. We’re designing strategy and even the future of how we’ll work together based on deeper conversations about individual experiences, needs, and preferences. And we are better for it.

The pandemic has given us clear eyes to see what is truly important. To create sustainable and resilient organizations, we need to capture the hearts and minds of employees and customers. To do this, people must feel seen, heard, and valued and know that we are committed to keeping them physically and psychologically safe.

Lynn Brownell is the president and CEO of Workplace Safety & Prevention Services.


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