Given the current state of affairs, health and safety training in many organizations has taken a back seat. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shift toward disease prevention protocols, many other crucial topics have been left untouched for the better part of two years. Now with widespread staffing shortages, employees are already spread too thin, making it more challenging to take people away from their primary job to sit for routine safety training.

But the reality is, training is arguably needed now more than ever. Employees are under tremendous stress due to feeling overworked, unprecedented changes brought on by the pandemic and ongoing changes in the economy, and it’s a lot to handle. Mental health is a huge concern for employers as distracted, stressed-out workers are at greater risk for accidents, injury and illness. Not to mention, many companies are scrambling to hire new staff, and they need to be brought up to speed quickly on health and safety protocols for the organization.

When it’s crunch time, many leaders fear that taking time out for training will negatively impact productivity. But the opposite is more likely to be true. Without proper education on safe working protocols, accidents and injuries can have much greater impact on lost time. And, when employees don’t feel properly trained or supported, their work quality and productivity can suffer.

Worse yet, if they don’t feel like the company is investing in their overall well-being, they’re less likely to stick around, and certainly the last thing you need right now is to lose great talent. By contrast, employees who feel the company cares about them as a person, not just as an asset, are more likely to feel satisfied, engaged and motivated, and they’re more loyal to their employer.

For these reasons and more, an effective training program can be a key business differentiator, helpful for meeting critical business key performance indicators (KPIs) as well as for recruiting and retention.

Here’s how to make health and safety training a priority and gain a competitive advantage as a result:

  • Gather employee feedback. Nearly one-third of companies can’t verify the effectiveness of their current training programs. One of the biggest reasons is a lack of connection to the individual employee and what they need. Too often, business metrics for training are set up around delivery, participation and certification requirements, not around how employees feel about the material or how well they’re engaging with it. Do they feel supported and properly educated in how to work safely? The only way to know is to ask. Make feedback a key part of your training program by using surveys to allow employees to weigh in on whether the training is relevant, useful and meeting their needs.
  • Invest in their needs. Managing employees is a little like using a vending machine: If you just bang on it, nothing will come out. But if you put something into it and invest in it, you get a better result. Your employees are a key part of your business success and come at too high of a cost to replace. Their satisfaction manifests not only in higher retention and productivity but also customer satisfaction. If they don’t feel safe, satisfied and valued, they can’t do their best work. Listen to what your employees need and invest in their well-being.
  • Make time for training. You can’t tell employees completing health and safety training is a priority and then not give them the opportunity to actually do it. Work with managers and supervisors to schedule time for training opportunities within the employees’ workday or use technology and means of incentives to make it easily accessible to them outside of work. Offering time and compensation for training is an important factor in helping employees prioritize training and helping them feel valued.
  • Get serious about mental health. The last couple of years have brought on an epidemic of mental health concerns, which can have a serious impact on employee performance. The workplace should be a safe environment where employees feel comfortable acknowledging their challenges and seeking help. Offering training in mental health and coping mechanisms can be a valuable asset. Educate your team in how to reach out for help, what discreet options are available to them and what coverage their benefits provide. Beyond that, offering mental health services on-site can be a huge advantage. Even if you offer great insurance benefits, employees might still find it difficult to get an appointment with a provider. Bringing the opportunity to them can be a tremendous benefit for getting them the help they need, and for reducing the amount of lost time required for appointments.
  • Prioritize health and safety in practice. Training is only one part of the equation — companies must also put those concepts into practice. If employees see you talking about health and safety, but still operating in a way that puts them at risk, they’ll quickly lose faith in your program. Offering on-site care for physical and mental health needs proves you’re paying more than lip service. It shows you’re investing in them holistically and you value them as a human, not just a product.

Now more than ever, companies can’t risk skimping on health and safety training. But the curriculum must also be meaningful, useful and accompanied by action. Employees want to see real investment in their overall well-being. It will not only help reduce lost time and improve productivity, but also enhance retention and recruitment by giving your business a strategic advantage.