One of our expert speakers on protecting lone workers is Christine Morrison. Back by popular demand, Christine will be running an interactive workshop on managing the personal safety of lone workers.
Formerly a Merseyside Police sergeant, and specialist crime prevention advisor with Greater Manchester Police, Christine now runs a training consultancy and supports many organisations with personal safety concerns. In her spare time (!) Christine is doing an MBA at Henley Business School and as part of this she carried out some fascinating research into the role that line managers play in keeping people safe.
We caught up with Christine and asked her to share her findings and her thoughts:
The Role of Managers in Protecting Lone Workers
These days,protecting lone working staff is a moral imperative, however it can also have major benefits for your business too. Failing to keep your staff safe can have serious consequences such as damaged reputation, poor morale and increased costs through absenteeism, compensation and fines.
In certain sectors, including many public sector organisations, lone workers can face a higher risk of violence and aggression. Many organisations are moving towards agile working, meaning that opportunities for supervision and peer support are reduced. At the same time workers are carrying more sophisticated equipment, potentially creating targets for theft. These combined factors highlight the need to proactively manage the personal safety risk of lone workers.
Latest findings from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW, 2018) show an alarming level of workplace violence and aggression. Incidents of violence and aggression towards public sector employees such as emergency services, teachers, social workers, NHS, council enforcement and housing staff have increased significantly (Unison, 2018).
Having delivered Personal Safety and Conflict De-Escalation workshops to organisations across the private, public and voluntary sectors for many years I have noticed considerable variation within organisations in their approach to lone working. I was curious as to why lone worker safety is prioritised in certain teams, yet not consistently across an entire organisation. Every senior leadership team says that staff safety is a priority. Most organisations have robust policies and procedures covering personal safety and lone working. Organisations have a clear corporate responsibility for the safety of their staff, so why is there so much inconsistency? One reason could be the emphasis (or lack thereof) that the individual line manager places upon it.
This led me to base my recent dissertation on this pivotal role of the line manager. The focus of this research was a large, UK-wide housing association, with the scope limited to the South West housing team. This team consists of frontline housing officers who work alone and interact with tenants, often in tenants’ homes. They cover vast, geographical areas, rarely seeing their colleagues or line manager. They regularly deal with challenging and confrontational situations.
The research involved a very small sample of lone workers and their line managers so can’t be seen as indicative of lone workers everywhere. Nonetheless it confirmed the crucial nature of the line manager role in the supervision of lone workers.
The most interesting findings were:
- Inconsistent management styles and communication strategies.
- Inadequate line management training.
- Differing personal safety cultures in the three offices.
- Existing lone working policies and processes were not being followed.
- Geographical distances exacerbate practical implications for lone working.
- Relationships really do matter and affect lone workers’ behaviours, attitudes and intentions.
- Lone workers care about intangible benefits such as recognition and learning and development opportunities
The research highlighted the connection between trust, commitment, the psychological contract and relationships between line managers and lone workers.
As a line manager what can you do?
Several practical, evidence-based recommendations are outlined below that are based around: communication; creating a culture of personal safety; training and development.
- Ask individual lone workers what is their preferred method of being managed and communicated with.
- Encourage two-way communications. Your staff have good ideas and want a voice.
- Establish consistent and frequent communication at local levels. This should be regular, relevant and personal.
- Introduce regular team days when the entire team spends the day in the office. The day should be enjoyable and incorporate team meetings and 1:1s. Lone workers therefore spend time with peers, thus reducing stress and isolation.
- Have an open door policy.
- Consult more with lone workers.
- Use mechanisms to determine engagement and trust levels such as 360 feedback and attitudinal surveys. These should be timely, confidential and transparent about the purpose.
- Introduce a consistent strategy for employee communications with a mix of appropriate methods.
- Get to know lone workers at a a personal level and recognise different learning styles and development needs.
Creating a culture of personal safety
- Introduce the concept of personal safety and lone working at the interview stage.
- Ensure new starters receive personal safety training as part of their induction.
- Include personal safety as a standing item on the team meeting and 1:1 agendas.
- Promote incident reporting and discuss these at team meetings.
- Update lone working policies annually and circulate.
- Encourage dynamic risk assessment and a clear ‘walk away’ policy.
- Have a personal safety ‘champion’ at board level.
- Initiate ‘safe and well’ checks at the end of each day.
- Update next of kin information and personal details annually.
- Cascade monthly personal safety tips in the form of toolbox talks and/or e-learning packages or webinars.
- Encourage lone workers to become accountable and develop personal action plans when attending personal safety training.
- If using lone worker devices, show trust when checking on lone workers’ use of the device to avoid suspicion of micro management.
- Develop super-users of the lone working device in each team.
- Display ‘zero tolerance’ notices in offices and schemes.
- Create clear flowcharts for any warning marker process.
- Provide appropriate and timely post-incident support (whether or not you feel the incident was serious).
- Promote any employee assistance programme.
- Be consistent.
Training and development needs for line managers
- Explicitly cover personal safety at work and the supervision of lone workers in management training programmes.
- Mentoring and coaching for line managers.
- Cover personal safety – at induction and regular refreshers.
- Introduce e-learning packages and tool-box talks to cover wider personal safety issues and tips.
- Communication skills.
- Mental Health awareness – to better understand vulnerable customers.
None of the above measures are costly (in terms of finance or resources). However, when taken together, they will create an environment where lone workers enjoy positive relationships with their line managers, feel safe, supported and valued, and are provided with ample opportunities to develop and have their efforts recognised. Managers should be trained to manage people and not simply performance and results. When managing lone workers, better results are achieved by relying on cooperation and consensus rather than coercion and control.
Christine Morrison, CMA Training, 2019.
If you want to chat to Christine more about her research, come along on the 15th October. We still have tickets available, but places for Christine’s workshop will be limited so don’t leave it too long!