Safety Culture and the Workplace Mug Dilemma


I visit a lot of different organisations and therefore repeatedly face this kitchen dilemma. That is, without even opening the Pandora’s box of teabag clubs and milk moneys; the challenge of finding and selecting a clean mug?

The typical kitchen contains a range of options. There are the old Company branded ones, the new rebranded ones, those from the suppliers or reps, the boardroom china set from a bygone era, “World’s Best Mum”, a number of local football teams, the delicate floral ones, the one from guy who left three years ago and I suspect, all the unwanted gift mugs people receive but lack the heart to throw away.

Then there are kitchens where the sink is full of cold water and dirty crockery. There are those with a rammed dishwasher, countless ‘waiting’ on the side and the odd smell emanating from the microwave. There are those festooned with splashed paper signs and then there are those that are well organised, clean and tidy.

Just like kitchens, workplaces come in many styles with varying levels of system, equipment, equality, compliance and ownership. Some aspects of culture are right in our faces and obvious.  We can see the housekeeping in the workplace, the condition of equipment and can gain a feel for adherence to standards, the basics. Whilst other elements are harder to grasp; the trust, honesty, sense of belonging, communication, caring, shared aspiration and real levels of ownership.

It is possible at face value to stand in some of the most modern workplaces and see the equivalent of the spotless kitchen, the neat rows of ordered mugs, even lids to reduce spillage and provision of trays; indications of compliance and ‘best practice’. Yet until I change my perspective, peer inside a mug, I have no idea of the level of staining, remnants of soup or lipstick.

I recently sat listening to a director encouraging people to again strive for zero incidents as achieved in the previous period. Things looked and sounded great at face value.

People can be reassured to see the seemingly spotless, clean and tidy workplace where colleagues are polite and courteous, with established systems and general collaboration. Scratch below the surface though and what do we find?

My personal mug strategy is generally three-fold.  Firstly, I avoid sporting rivals. Secondly, I try not to upset the ‘guy in accounts’ by taking the one from his daughter.  Thirdly, and so often my real focus, I like to look inside the mug because even in the best of workplaces this is where I find the next level of ‘culture’.  No, not the growing furry kind, but my analogy of workplace safety culture, I need to go beyond first impressions to consider a different perspective.

This is one of the great benefits of culture assessment. Creating a way to get a fresh perspective on the workplace combined with assurance and benchmark, reduction in blind spots and risk, gaining insight and finding those opportunities to go beyond compliance. Creating space where it is safe to talk and doing so in a curious manner.

Whatever the current state of your kitchen and mugs, there are ways of progressing to the next level and I would love the opportunity to share some ideas with you over a coffee.

By Matthew Strong

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