How organisational culture affects safety

Charlotte Thaarup Owen

How organisational culture affects safety

By Charlotte Thaarup-Owen

The more stressed we are the more likely it is that we make a mistake and therefore that we get hurt.

On the other hand, the more mindful we are the less likely it is that we make a mistake.

As mindfulness practice is a root construct for change, integrating mindfulness in the workplace not only improves just specific targeted aspects, rather there is a flow on of positive change within the whole workplace environment. Improving our ability to focus, emotional regulation, stress reduction and increased resilience are just a few areas where mindfulness is shown to be effective.

In one recent mindfulness work program the objective was for participants to reduce stress, become change ready and increase awareness of when there was an increase in the likelihood of making mistakes.

We found a 36% increase in ability to manage stress (which matches other research that usually shows a reduction in stress of between 30-40% over an eight-week mindfulness program).

We also found an increase in awareness of ‘least likely to make a mistake’ of 30% and an increase in the ‘awareness of being more likely to make a mistake’ of 21.6%. The ability to focus went up by 27.4 % and mental clarity increased by 34%.

The reason mindfulness is recognised as a root construct for change (Good, Baer et al[1]) is that mindfulness is a practice that changes our brain. The practice is described as paying attention non-judgingly to what arises as body sensations, feelings, thoughts and in the environment around us.

Mindfulness is a total system of training our minds for wellness and mental health.  It encompasses emotional intelligence, cognitive agility, body awareness and it has a spiritual dimension as well. Many mindfulness programs are however run as secular programs, and in this way, they integrate well with any faith or non-faith.

If we define safety in a broader sense to workers as not being negatively affected by the workplace, then the emotional dimension to wellbeing such as reducing absenteeism, stress and conflict while increasing diversity all become part of what we should focus on in order that we create or maintain a workplace that is not only safe physically but also psychologically.  It makes sense to see safety in this broader way, as our mental wellbeing affects us physically.

Also, the more stressed we are, the more likely we are to behave in ways that are less cautious and less mindful. One of the things that happens when we are experiencing stress is that we become very focused on ourselves and our task to the detriment of other areas of endeavor.  Empathy also drops when we are stressed.  When there is little concern for others we might become a little more reckless.

The healthier the culture, the lower the stress, the more we reduce the risk of accidents, conflicts and illness.  Mindfulness is one way to enhance a culture.  Through changing the way the brains of employees work, you change a culture, and through that, create a safer and healthier work environment.


[1] Contemplating Mindfulness at Work: An Integrative Review.  Journal of Management Vol. 42 No. 1, January 2016 114–142 DOI: 10.1177/0149206315617003

Good, Baer et al