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The Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest proudly presents Workplace Matters, a mini podcast series focusing on healthy work design. Here, we’ll tackle a broad range of cost-effective approaches to impact the wellbeing of today’s workforce.

Visible Felt Leadership

Description: This episode of Workplace Matters focuses on the vital role of leadership in the workplace. We talked with Chris Overman from Nebraska Public Power District about how they have incorporated Safety and Health into the foundation of their business through visible felt leadership. Chris and Nebraska Public Power District leadership have created an environment where worker well-being thrives.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guests: Chris Overman

Visible Felt Leadership

 Michael: You’re listening to Workplace matters. Today’s episode will be looking at leadership. Strong leadership is where health and safety begins and where it becomes a priority in a workplace. We talked with Chris Overman about what his company has done to create visible felt leadership within their organization.

Michael: Chris Overman is the director of safety and human performance for Nebraska Public Power, a statewide power company with 1800 employees.

Chris: We’re in 93 of 95 counties and we’re a transmission, distribution, and retail provider of electricity. We’re the state’s largest power provider.

Michael: Despite the size and hazards associated with wind, coal, and nuclear energies, the company has won numerous awards for outstanding safety initiatives and performance. Chris and the leaders at Nebraska Public Power have developed a culture focused on improving the health and safety of their employees. Even bringing in experts to educate them on new concepts in leadership, including a group that spoke about visible felt leadership. This is a concept that can be attributed to the DuPont Company. It’s about leading employees of all levels to understand and feel their leaders high standards and accept their genuine commitment to safety.

Chris: They illustrated it to us in a jigsaw puzzle. At the center was this thing called visible felt leadership about Caring for people and having people internalize that and then around the edges were all the programmatic elements of the safety programs. It really gets down to showing you care. That’s what holds it all together.

You can’t force people to be committed. You can force compliance when you’re there, but you’re not going to get the results you want through any kind of strictly compliance-based anything. You have to know your people. You have to know what’s going on in the field and you have to get out there and you have to build trust and relationships and use that influence to move, move the needle. You can’t just see this, think you know what it is, and apply a fix and expect that to get you great results in the long-term.

Michael: Knowing that forcing compliance isn’t the way to lead, Chris and the others instead began to look at leadership from a much more hands-on perspective.

Chris: You gotta listen and you gotta go look at what’s causing the problems, you gotta go look at what’s working and then you gotta make it as important as the budget, and the customer meetings, and the industry benchmarking. And being out with your people seeing what’s going on is, is every bit as important as all that safety, wellness, and those types of things are key to the operation of the organization. I have some of these executives say to me, “You know, Chris, how do we do that?” I say, “One conversation at a time.” It’s not some drive-by thing that you can go do today, and quit doing tomorrow. You gotta internalize it. We’ve got great support from our senior leaders and not only in word but in deed, they’re out in the field, observing, asking questions, providing support, showing they care, raising standards, challenging folks in a good way.

Michael: Listening to employees, getting employee feedback, and being out in the field are all very important for leadership within a company. But bad habits can form in any workplace, and it can be easy to blame the employee. The team at Nebraska Public Power took a different viewpoint.

Chris: Everything that you do has to do with your systems and your culture of  leadership. Right? What are you willing to tolerate? How do you reinforce the things you want? And how do you not reinforce the things you don’t want? So if you see people doing things that you don’t want them to do, you have to take a look at how is that being reinforced? Cuz if it wasn’t, they wouldn’t be doing it. Look at your systems; look upstream from the person.”

Michael: One example of a positive behavior that was reinforced was with lifting appropriate amounts of weight. Employees were lifting too much weight for them to handle , and because this habit was not stopped by management it became reinforced within the culture. Once management realized the negative behavior they could begin to change the culture

Chris: We like to tell folks just because you can do that doesn’t mean you should and this isn’t a weightlifting competition. So it will no longer be a badge of honor to leave all broken up and limping away, which I think it used to be.

Michael: At their current level, Nebraska Public Power has more inter-connectivity between safety, health, and wellness than ever, but as we’ve said before, employee wellness has no endpoint. It is about constant improvement.

Chris: We’re getting some feedback that, maybe, we’re as managers and leaders quick to judge or quick to discount something, so what we’re really focusing on to try to get to that level of interdependency where the best teams are (any kind of team) when you get the team on the same page… they talk about it in sports about get the locker room and get the leaders, the strong leadership on the team where the coaches just have to kind of adjust a little bit but the team kind of just self-monitors. When you get that, you get a great power.

Michael: Good leadership is in multiple layers throughout the company, involves leaders being on the ground with employees, and reinforcing positive behaviors. Obviously, there’s more than that, but these major takeaways have helped to create very strong leaders for a company that powers almost all of Nebraska. Employee wellness is just as important as any other major item on the agenda.

Chris: It’s all about the people, if people take care of the people and a lot of that other stuff will take care of itself.

Michael: Workplace matters is supported by the National Institute for occupational safety and health. To listen to more podcasts, view our ongoing video series, or for more information about us, visit Healthier Workforce Center. Org. Thank you.


The Participatory Approach

Description: This episode of Workplace Matters focuses on a project improving correctional officers’ health through a Participatory Approach. This is about involving employees in the creation of changes to the workplace. We’ll take a look at a St. Louis project on rural and urban jails, and how their participatory approach had long lasting positive effects on a stressful workplace.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guests: Dr. Lisa Jaegers, Superintendent Jeffery Carson, Correctional Officer Patryce Jackson, and Correctional Officer Ian Spooner

The Participatory Approach

Michael: You’re listening to workplace matters presented by the Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest. Today’s episode will look at the participatory approach a method of involving employee all levels to change the workplace. We’ll look at how this method was used at a jail an institution designed to keep people safe that wanted to do the same for its employees.

Jeagers: Yeah so a participatory needs assessment is a really foundational piece of total worker health that I think is so important.

Michael: Dr. Lisa Jeagers is an assistant professor in the occupational science in therapy department at St. Louis University.

Jeagers: Many individuals representing different facets of the organization are coming together and working together towards identifying an issue and then talking about solutions related to those issues.

Michael: That is at the core of the participatory approach. Many different workers coming together to find solutions. The idea being that workers are the experts on their environment and its problems. They can delineate Solutions better than anyone else this helps to ensure that solutions are both accepted by the workers and come closer to suiting their needs. Dr. Yeager’s and other researchers implemented this process at 2 rural and 2 Urban jails in and around St. Louis. The process began with confidential surveys.

Jeagers: So, we started with surveys with the officers and those surveys informed focus groups. And from those focus groups, we gathered more ideas and themes of what the next step should be. Those next steps turned out to be some simple intervention Simple Solutions that could easily be rolled out in the workplace and some long-term goals.

Michael: The aggregate data was collected by Dr. Jeagers and reported back to the jail.

Jeagers: We found that over 31% of officers showed signs of depression which is far higher than the general population. We found that they have high rates of PTSD post-traumatic stress disorder, extremely high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and so on so the list of physical health and mental health conditions are really, you know, the list is very long.

Michael: Once the results were reported teams comprised of officers from multiple positions and ranks were created to develop interventions. Superintendent. Jeffrey. Carson is a ranking officer at one of the jails involved with the study.

Carson: You know my first task was I wanted to know how to protect staff. How to make them feel safe. How do you equip them with skills that they will be able to oversee offenders and watch out for each other. Be a intermediary between the community and facility.

Michael: Correction officer Ian Spooner was part of the team developing interventions.

Spooner: A lot of it seemed to revolve around being healthy. All the things that go into that. Being active, eating the correct foods and stuff like that. And so we looked into how we could promote a better culture of staying healthy.

Carson: Some of the issues are eating and breaks. So when you have 30 minutes to take a break. You’re rushing outside, you got cigarette in your mouth and try to light it and eat a little Debbie at the same time. That’s not healthy.

Spooner: There was definitely a deficit in the officers Health mentally and physically often. Yeah, we had a high number of people say that they experienced some sort of depression, high blood pressure is one of those, hypertension feeling depressed. So and like a supposed traumatic stress.

Michael: For each problem solution is created by a group of employees. That solution is implemented and revised continuously to create the best possible work environment for the employee.

Carson: We had to look at eating and what we provided on the job versus the vending machine and then we restrict what you can bring in a jail, you know, these are the items you can bring, and these are the items that you cannot bring. Offering smoking sensations classes, we have a look at well, maybe we’ll come up and let them go in the gym so they can work out. So if you want to work out. Increase their skills, so they gave us a soft form of judo. A little verbal language. We added that with our SRT training and other skills.

Jackson: I love the project,

Michael: Correctional officer Patryce Jackson works at the jail.

Jackson: and they have changed the culture already. We now we don’t have vending machines. So you have a variety of healthier food which some officers are aware or conscious of their health is some aren’t but their options are healthy food. So I really like in that part portion. I really do.

Carson: You come to work ready to go to work. You sitting in shift briefing then you go to your job. 10 minutes later, somebody’s hanging up and they die. How do you deal with that? In Corrections, we never dealt with that before. We just say “get back in there and do your job”. We’re human beings. Someone just died. And they died, there’s nothing that you could have done. So we so we got with mental health and EAP to make sure we have adequate counseling and coaching.

Jackson: Everyday is not the same in Corrections. So someday you may need that extra break and you may have some additional problems or situations going on.

Jeagers: How can we make the work meaningful to the worker to improve their day today. To reduce their stress. To make them want to come to work and do this work and be a part of someone’s life. That’s the culture change. That’s the shift in the way we do the work and that’s how we have to be really creative in using these strategies such as total worker Health to really infuse a workplace and change the way we do the work.

Michael: These changes all came from the employee’s. The problems were identified and solutions were discovered and implemented by the employees at every level.

Jeagers: But I think the take away is we just have to listen to the worker and really they’ve got a lot of great answers.

Michael: Workplace matters is supported by the National Institute for occupational safety and health. To listen to more podcasts, view out ongoing video series, or for more information about us visit Healthier Workforce Center. Org.

Thank you.


Mod Factors

Description: This episode of Workplace Matters focuses on Mod Factors and what employers can do to improve them. These factors can lower insurance premiums and save money. More importantly, a good mod factor is often the direct result of a safe and healthy workforce.

Host: Michael Guhin

Guests: Lisa Henning, Dan Krick, and Amanda Adam

Mod Factors

Michael: You’re listening to workplace matters presented by the healthcare Workforce Center of the Midwest. Today’s episode will be focused on mod factors what they are, how to lower them, and why putting safety and health first will protect workers from harm and save money.

Lisa: Well a mod factor is the way the workers compensation insurance rates you on your risk-

Michael: Lisa Henning is the executive director of the Nebraska Safety Council.

Lisa(cont.): and so it’s based on your industry. It’s based on your size. It based on your location in the United States. And so obviously we can recognize that people that are in a manufacturing environment or construction environment have increase risk compared to say an office environment when it comes to injuries. A mod of 1 means that you’re an average. So if you think of it from a grade perspective, it’s a C. It’s an average. If your mod factor is maybe a 0.7 then that’s an A. If it’s a 1.3 or 1.4. That would be a D or an F. So you really want that lower mod to decrease your cost in your risk at your organization.

Michael: Any company can find out what their mate factor is by contacting their workers compensation insurance provider. But once you know that number then steps need to be taken to either lower that factor or keep it low.

Lisa: I think you have written safety policies and procedures that they need to be very clear and they need to be communicated to your people, but for a small company one of the biggest things is having a small wellness program for your company. It doesn’t have to be all-consuming. I have scene companies with as small as 4 employees do health and wellness program. When I look at the outcomes for businesses that do health and well-being programs, Total Worker Health type programs. They usually see outcomes in their change in absenteeism and their change in their mod first.

Michael: Their methods to lower mod like PPE or personal protective equipment and Engineering strategies. Both of those can physically mitigate risks in the workplace through healthy work design, improved ventilation, ergonomic workstations, and adjustments to work schedules.

Michael: Dan Creek is the vice president of organizational development at a manufacturing company called hexagon in Lincoln, Nebraska. Here’s what they did to reduce their number of claims.

Dan: It was a lot of data collection. I needed to really understand what was going on. So we really broke it down and terms of where our injuries and illnesses were occurring by shift, by length of tenure, what type. And what we found was in our case 50% of our recordables for dermatitis related. So clearly a behavior thing that we can do. So not only PPE but just good hygiene. We enhanced our dermatitis training. So everybody gets out on a frequent basis at least once a year. Obviously new people that are coming in there getting a a really big dose to be able to create those behaviors upfront.

Michael: Amanda Adam is a health and safety manager at JWV Pork in Washington, Iowa. Her company was able to significantly lower their insurance mod factor and premiums after dedicating themselves to a safe work environment.

Amanda: This last year we had 12 injuries and the year before we had 13 injuries. The year that we had 13 injuries we had $95,000 in losses and the year that we had 12 injuries we had $7,000 in losses. So just because you- If you look solely at the number of losses that you have that’s not really a good indicator of how your temperature on safety is. The overall goal wasn’t to decrease the mod factor. The goal was to be able to manage those claims a little bit better. Ultimately. What we want is to send people home from work in the same way that they came to work. So that is at the heart of why we have a safety training program and those other things are great numbers that come along with that thing. But really if you don’t have the heart and soul to care about how you send your employees home. Those numbers really don’t make much of a difference.

Michael: Workplace matters is supported by the National Institute for occupational safety and health. To listen to more podcasts, view out ongoing video series, or for more information about us visit Healthier Workforce Center. Org.

Thank you.