Risk management can broadly be defined as the identification, evaluation, and prioritization of risks. That means we identify specific risks to ourselves, property, an organization, etc. Then the risk is evaluated under its possible effects on the people, things, or even profits that it would effect. And, of course, then prioritizing those risks in a way that helps us avoid them and, as a results, their costs - be they monetary, cost of loss of life or property, etc.
As businesses and Human Resources professionals, we may not always realize how important our individual behaviors are and could possibly have not identified or started to prioritize the behavioral risks our employees can cause to our organizations. If you have not already, you should start a program or initiative that focuses on behavioral risk management.
Human behavior is not a risk that can be easily managed as each person has their own rationale for how to react to outside stimuli whether they be from our personal relationships, our relationships to substances, real and imagined pressures, and demanding work schedules and responsibilities. While other risks like weather, the economy, and business trends may be easy or at least possible to measure or forecast, we may not always be able to readily forecast the risks of human behavior in the workplace.
Some behaviors can be controlled or trained: general office safety, HAZMAT training and instruction, guidance on electrical training or repair, warehouse safety orientation, etc. Other behaviors cannot be controlled and sometimes, depending on the legal guidelines, shouldn’t be discussed in the workplace. However, the effects that outside stimuli have on the mental health of our employees can give rise to behaviors that could directly influence costs to insurance, workers compensation, and many other areas where your business could end up taking a direct hit.
Robert Johnson, in an article written for The Journal of Employee Assistance in 2004, discusses behavioral risk management and the positive effects Employee Assistance Programs can have to curb or eliminate many behavior risks associated with the workplace. In his piece he discusses these risks on a timeline of events, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When a real or imagined event occurs, it plants a seed of thought in the mind of an employee. That thought can then begin to form or construe the employees feelings towards themself, their coworkers and loved ones, and their world at large. Those feelings then directly influence their behaviors at work as well.
Now, if the employee at hand begins having depressing or negative thoughts, those thoughts will inspire feelings of apathy or discontent. This could cause the employee to start behaving in ways that are unsafe or detrimental to themselves, the people around them, and even to workplace property. If those careless or harmful behaviors come to fruition, it could mean something as simple as costs to an employer’s workers compensation funds or, worse, it could come as large costs towards the company’s insurance if they end up having to replace expensive product from their clients; costly items from their warehouses or offices spaces like computers, warehouse shelving, powered industrial trucks, etc; or pay for lost time and wages.
Johnson’s idea was to increase or expand the availability and coverage of employee assistance programs. If wielded correctly, employee assistance programs can address many of the issues that come about from the events, thoughts, feelings, behaviors model he presented. If psychological problems or concerns turn into behavioral issues which then directly cause healthcare and productivity problems for a company, it would be beneficial to address and treat the psychological problems or concerns as the root cause.
EAPs can address behavior risks in a number of ways. A person needing mental health counseling could contact a counselor through their company’s EAP and have those issues addressed through EAP funded therapy sessions (most companies offer a certain number of sessions free of charge through their EAPs), a person with a substance abuse habit could seek care without losing their job, and an employee with a significant concern for their health or wellbeing at work could report it with confidentiality and no risk of adverse reactions in the workplace.
All in all, a good first step to behavioral risk management is to stress the availability of your employee assistance program to all new and seasoned employees.
- EAPs should be highlighted and explained at every step of the onboarding process.
- Information on how to access the EAP and how it works should be included in all new hire packets, posted at any and all locations that are high-traffic or communal areas in your workplace, and made available in ways that someone can access the information without worry of public scrutiny.
- All supervisors, managers, and team leads should have the information and a good, general understanding of how it works and how to most easily access it.
- Yearly, quarterly, monthly, or even bi-monthly reminders should be given to employees at all levels of your organization to ensure every single employee knows they are valued, their mental and physical wellbeing is important, and the company itself has provided a way for them to prioritize it.