Creating a culture of care

Feeling safe, valued and respected is integral to an inclusive culture.

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As I lead the transformation of a culture of care at the university, it is easy to see both the importance of this work and how difficult it is to translate the importance of safety into changed behaviours. 

This is not unique to the University of Alberta. In fact, I have seen it often – we all have. Whether it’s because we’re in a rush, we aren’t aware of proper protocols or we just believe it won’t happen to us.

It will take time to ensure that safety is a value in our daily work. Change takes time and perseverance, but we can change. 

At the U of A, we have taken many steps to ensure that we have a safe workplace, including recent Safety Stand Down meetings and the establishment of a new Safety Strategy Advisory Committee. Our commitment to a culture of care goes beyond physical safety and must lead to an inclusive culture where employees feel safe, valued and respected. 

So, what does it take to create a space for all university members to feel this way?

Feeling safe

Your definition of safety may vary based on the situation. In the context of inclusion, the feeling of safety means you can bring your whole self to work without negative implications. 

It means you can share elements of yourself without fear. You feel comfortable to have open discussions about the unique experiences that have shaped you. 

Feeling able to be yourself at work means that you feel empowered to share ideas that challenge the status quo, ask questions, and admit when you don’t understand or need more information. 

As author Mike Robbins said, “When we don’t bring our whole selves to work, we suffer – lack of engagement, lack of productivity, and our well-being is diminished. We aren’t able to do our best, most innovative work, and we spend and waste too much time trying to look good, fit in, and do or say the ‘right’ thing. For teams and organizations, this lack of psychological safety makes it difficult for the group or company to thrive and perform at their highest level because people are holding back some of who they really are.” 

Feeling safe also means you are confident in raising safety concerns with anyone in the organization, most importantly your supervisor. This includes hazards in your workplace and the necessary controls, concerns of training and if something does go wrong, you feel you are prepared in the appropriate emergency procedures. 

Feeling valued

We all want to go home each day feeling like our contribution made a difference. 

Let’s take it one step further. A safe, inclusive culture creates space for individuality – a place where you feel valued and appreciated for those characteristics that make you unique as a person, a place where you feel confident raising health and safety issues. 

Feeling respected

Respect is a core ingredient for a safe, inclusive culture. Treating people with respect fosters a high sense of belonging within an organization. 

To be truly respectful it’s not enough to follow the “golden rule” of treating people the way you want to be treated. Respect in an inclusive culture means following the “platinum rule” of treating people the way they want to be treated. 

Respect has different meanings based on an individual’s unique culture, upbringing, socialization, and life experiences. In order to truly treat people the way they want to be treated, we must take time to get to know them as individuals and honour their unique backgrounds. 

What does feeling safe, valued, and respected feel like to you? And what steps do you take to model this feeling for others? I welcome your thoughts and ideas, and encourage you to reach out to me directly.


About Tanya

Tanya Wick is the Associate Vice-President of Human Resources, Health, Safety and Environment at the U of A. With more than 20 years in human resources and leadership, Tanya has a talent for building accountable work cultures and teams. Her leadership expertise spans a wide range of operational functions, including human resources, procurement, administration, payroll and communications. Add to this her many years of leveraging HR metrics to influence corporate decisions and she is a well-rounded business leader equipped and driven to manage critical change and strategic objectives.