Employees aren’t always eager to participate in toolbox talks. In many workplaces, people treat toolbox talks like they’re a trip to the dentist. Workers only show up because they have to, no one wants to participate, and everyone is glad when the talk is over.
There’s always a reason why toolbox talks aren’t viewed positively. Sometimes, it’s a sign of a dysfunctional safety culture. Other times, it could simply be that workers aren’t properly engaged or don’t understand the point of toolbox talks.
But all too often, the problem is attitude.
The attitude of management and their immediate supervisors plays an outsized role in how employees think of toolbox talks.
Attitude is one of the few things that each of us has complete control over. It can also be contagious. When management takes a positive attitude to toolbox talks, it can dramatically improve how much workers pay attention during the talk and what sort of info they retain afterwards.
It seems strange to think that management would have a negative attitude towards toolbox talks, but you’d be surprised how many supervisors treat safety meetings like a chore. And if they see them negatively then it’s no surprise that workers have a poor outlook on toolbox talks too.
When I talk about positivity, I don’t mean that you suddenly have to be all smiles and sunshine. A few people are like that but if you’re like me then attempting to be bubbly will just come off as cheesy and fake.
What I mean by positivity is that you have to take an earnest, good-faith approach to toolbox talks. You have to believe in them. You have to show outward signs that you think they’re worth the effort.
You don’t need to love every second of them. But you should exude a sense that workplace safety matters, and that toolbox talks can help employees be more alert and safe in the workplace.
If it seems complicated or too abstract to take a positive approach to toolbox talks then approach it from a different angle. Do what you can to eliminate a couple of things that convey a negative attitude towards tailgate meetings.
In particular, avoid the three things listed below and you’ll be well on your way to more positive and productive toolbox talks.
What you say about toolbox talks will communicate to employees what you think about them. This is just as true for small comments and little asides.
The first rule is to never, ever complain or say anything negative about safety meetings. A single offhand remark about safety talks can be enough to show that you don’t believe in them. And that, in turn, can ruin your next toolbox talk.
Conversely, talking openly about how important the talks are, how you’re planning for a great talk, or how you think there’s a lot to learn in the next safety meeting—these are all ways to display an affirmative attitude.
It doesn’t take much. All you need to do is make sure your comments are genuine and consistently positive.
The amount of visible effort that you put into toolbox talks says a lot about what you think of them.
If it’s clear that you haven’t spent any time preparing and you don’t put any effort into the delivery then don’t be surprised if workers think you don’t care. And if you don’t care about toolbox talks then why should they?
You don’t need to spend tons of time laboring over every talk and you don’t need to present it perfectly. But show up to each talk with confidence, be ready to go, and actively try to do a good job—don’t just go through the motions. It sounds obvious but it makes a big difference.
Time and speed
Are you rushing through toolbox talks? Do you give the impression that you’re just trying to check a box to say that it’s been done? Do you provide enough time for each talk? Do you make time consistently, week to week?
We spend time on the things we think are most important. If you want to show a positive attitude towards toolbox talks then make sure you’re providing ample space in the workday to do them properly.
Positivity matters across the board for safety
I’ve talked mostly about how attitude affects toolbox talks. Obviously, I think a lot about safety meetings so they’re my biggest concern.
I’m going to close this out by noting that positivity matters for almost everything you do in safety. I’ll give you one example. We know that more engaged employees are safer employees—and one way to better engage workers is to be more positive.
If this is an area that you know needs some work, then start with toolbox talks. It can feel forced if you try to overhaul your public workplace attitude. And if you bite off more than you can chew then you’ll be less likely to succeed. But toolbox talks are short and contained—which makes it easier to concentrate on projecting a more positive (or at least less negative) air.
So if you think that displaying a more positive attitude is something you (or someone else in your workplace) needs to work on, then focus on being more positive for the length of a toolbox talk. If you can make that happen, you’ll likely find that more positivity will naturally start creeping into the rest of your safety program.