Want workers to listen to you? Gain their trust

Get your message out

If employees don't trust you, they probably won't listen to your advice, agree to take a health risk assessment, or participate in your wellness programs.

Talei Akahoshi, director of occupational health at Piedmont Healthcare, says you must be proactive in reaching out to employees. She gives these recommendations to establish trust:

Make yourself visible.

"Our employees like seeing faces they know. One-on-one events on site, with individual attention, increases participation rates," says Akahoshi.

Engage middle management.

"If they are not supportive, those below will be less likely to participate," says Akahoshi. "They are my biggest supporters in reaching my employees. How do you do it? That is the million dollar question."

Akahoshi says you need to have several approaches to gain middle management support, as follows:

— First, they have to know that there is senior leadership support. "Get them to participate or endorse your programs," says Akahoshi.

— Be open and honest with your middle managers.

— Show managers the results of their actions. For example, report participation rates weekly, and show which entity or department are top performers.

— Make sure they have the right resources and tools. "They may not have all the information to assist you, or may feel uncomfortable," says Akahoshi. "Address any of their concerns."

— Support them by making yourself available.

"Ask if you can attend one of their staff meetings," says Akahoshi.

— Perhaps most importantly, make sure they know why you need their support.

"Have a manager tell a story of how they made a difference," Akahoshi suggests.

Be sure that everyone on your team is able to answer questions.

There must be a clear, consistent message communicated to employees. "If your occ health team is not on board or isn't selling it, who will?" asks Akahoshi.

Leave door open

For Michelle L. McCarthy, RN, COHN, on-site medical case manager for Genex Services in Norcross, GA, saying "my door is always open," is more than just an expression. "You actually need to leave the door open! Acknowledge associates as they walk by. This lets them know they aren't bothering you."

The only time McCarthy shuts her door is when an employee is already in her office with a concern. "Do not multi-task when talking to associates. Make eye contact, and repeat questions to ensure they know you are listening," she advises.

Follow up with that employee later in the week to see how he or she is doing, or to provide answers to questions. "If they have a question or problem and you don't know the answer, admit it," says McCarthy. "But let them know you will find it!"

Any time you're out in the building, make eye contact, speak to associates, and encourage them to drop by any time, advises McCarthy.

When walking through the buildings to speak with workers, McCarthy makes a point of asking questions about how they do their job. "I find that they are much more forthcoming with information," she adds.

SOURCES

For more information on establishing trust with employees, contact:

• Talei Akahoshi, RN, COHN-S/CM, SPHR, Corporate Director, Occupational Health Piedmont Healthcare, Atlanta, GA. Phone: (404) 605-2710. Fax: (404) 564-5965. E-mail: Talei.Akahoshi@piedmont.org.

• Laurie Heagy, RN, COHN-S, President, Berks County Pennsylvania Association of Occupational Health Nurses. E-mail: lheagy@hotmail.com.