His shirt was neatly pressed and he stood up when I walked into the interview room. He ran his clammy hands on his trousers before extending one to shake my hand. I would be interviewing this 19-year-old young man for a position with a telecommunication company, and in a region that had high unemployment, this was a coveted job.
He sailed through the first couple of questions. It was his answer to my query – “Describe a stressful time on a job you had and how you handled it” – that gave me pause and, unfortunately, didn’t allow me to move him to the second round of interviews. Although he wasn’t at fault in the scenario, his answer showed he hadn’t yet developed the skills to speak up when he needed to.
His father had called a friend and got him a job with a construction crew. His job was the lowest entry-level position, and he was grateful for having a summer job that paid well and allowed him to work outside.
He told me that his boss had asked him to pick up a couple of barrels and move them to the warehouse.
Why, I wondered, was that stressful?
He said both of the barrels were half full and had explosive symbols on the side. In his mind, this meant they could blow up if they were mishandled. There was no one to help him load the barrels on the back of the truck, so he had to figure out a way to lift them onto the truck bed. Not only was there nothing to secure them in the back of the truck but they were at risk of falling over and spilling their contents. The drive to the warehouse was over 10 miles, much of it on bumpy gravel roads.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I did what they asked and was glad I didn’t hit any major bumps in the road. I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t a team player. After all, he said, “my Dad got me the job with his friend, and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone”.
I was shocked that he would rather risk blowing himself up then question authority and ask for help.
He didn’t trust that others cared more for him than the job he was doing.
When I’ve spoken at Safety Conferences and talked to top Safety Officials around North America, all of them told me how important it was to genuinely show employees that management cared for them. This particular example is about physical risk but the dangers of psychological risk are important too. How welcome do new employees feel? Are mistakes used as learning or weapons?
People are aware of when they are getting lip service. Trust has to be built on a foundation of caring and commitment to the individual.
There are a number of things you can do when you are bringing new staff on board.
- In orientation, don’t just show videos, give a manual and expect people to know what to do. Ask questions. Get them to explain back to you what they understand.
- Assess the individual’s ability to handle risk.
a. Identify the hazards.
b. Decide who might be harmed and how.
c. Evaluate the risks and decide on control measures.
- On a regular and consistent basis, meet with employees to get their feedback and input on the risks they encounter. Listen to them and implement changes that make sense.
What would you add?