How do you know that you won’t trip on the telephone cord your coworker has stretched across the entryway of your cubicle? You don’t (until the inevitable happens). How do you know whether or not workplace safety behaviors are actually practiced in your organization? A study by Parboteeah and Kapp (2008) says that the company’s ethical climate may provide some clues.
Although the link between safety and ethical climate hasn’t been examined to a great extent in previous literature, Parboteeah and Kapp found some evidence suggesting this link may exist. The authors measured three different types of ethical climate: egoist (Edgar acts ethically because he knows it’s in his self-interest to do so), benevolent (Brittany acts ethically for the sake of the common good), and principled (Pete acts ethically because of the laws, rules, or professional codes surrounding him).
So which type of ethical climate did the authors find to be associated with workplace safety? Of our three exemplified employees, we can aim our laser pointer on Pete. Workplaces with stronger principled climates were more likely to have lower injury rates and higher safety-enhancing behaviors than workplaces with weaker principled climates.
Surprisingly, no significant relationships were found with egoist climate and safety (the authors initially expected organizations with this type of climate to fall on their faces when it came to safety, which didn’t come out either). But we CAN throw a cookie to our friend Brittany because benevolent climate was negatively related to workplace injuries. (She only gets one cookie, not two, because the hypothesized positive relationship between benevolent climate and safety-enhancing behaviors was not supported.) I guess you can say that genuinely loving your neighbor (in the form of caring about their well-being) may lower work-related injuries. What you learned in pre-school prevails.
Savor it. Given the findings around principled climates in terms of workplace safety behaviors, it may be a good idea to make your organization’s rules regarding safety visible and talked about regularly. Lead by example! This may start with removing that loose phone cord lying across the beginning of this blog. Oh wait, that’s my job.