February 22, 2024 | Susan Napier-Sewell

How far away is death? How strong is your work culture?


A strong work culture can be a lifesaver.

When we lose focus on the task at hand, depending on the job and function, it’s possible for us to unwittingly in the process create a hazard not only for ourselves but for those around us — our work culture — performing under compromised safety.

Unfortunately, for many workers, distraction is the norm, and there’s a reluctance in the collective work culture to discuss it. 

Recommendation: Foster a work culture that encourages a questioning attitude.

We should develop a healthy respect for what can go wrong with each activity we perform. In doing so, we take personal responsibility for safe operations. Additionally, we should take a minute to identify the hazards for every task, every time. By encouraging a questioning attitude and understanding that learning never stops, we allow for leaders to pass along the safety legacy and for staff to feel comfortable while raising safety concerns.

How can you optimize workplace focus, improve work culture, and minimize risks of distractions and hazards? 

Pharmacists have to be on-task every minute of their shifts. Yet, they get interrupted about every two minutes. The American Pharmacists Association has published “Deflect distractions and intercept interruptions” to help healthcare professionals navigate multitasking, distractions, and interruptions that have become the norm in their work environment.

You don’t have to be a mindfulness expert to improve your ability to help your work culture maintain focus on the task and avoid serious mistakes. Implement these few simple behavioral changes:

  • Focus on your breathing to help you stay in the moment.
  • Take occasional brief breaks and let your mind deliberately wander, then return to the task more focused. A tweak on the occasional brief break for larger organizations is to have official break times, giving workers the opportunity to switch off from focused tasks. 
  • Stay well-fed and well-hydrated so that thirst and hunger don’t distract you. 
  • Write down thoughts about things you need to remember to do at home. This gets them out of your head and helps you concentrate on the task.
  • Create a work environment that helps you concentrate. For example, you might position yourself to get more daylight or get away from noisy coworkers.
  • Be mindful of the risks of repetitive work. Focus can lag when workers do the same thing over and over again. Consider job rotation to avoid the risk. Brainstorm with your peers or manager to identify clear risks (causal factors). Pinpoint solutions (corrective actions) for situations that occur as a reaction to distractions. 
  • Avoid multi-tasking and manage one job at a time to stay focused.
  • Put your mobile phone on silent (no buzzing either) or stow away so it’s not a distraction.
  • Stretch and move during lengthy endeavors of any type—shifts, conference calls, etc.

Incorporate hands-on practices within your work culture to help build, renew, and maintain sharp focus.

  • To expand upon taking a break: Move away from where you are; make a deliberate visual change from your usual workspace environment — a physical and visual break.
  • Make it your focus to rest well when you are away from work, and arise feeling refreshed.
  • If your job is endlessly repetitive, brainstorm solutions with your manager. 
  • Compare notes with other workers to learn about their coping mechanisms.

Source content credit: Some content in this lesson learned is taken from OPEXSHARE, “Mindfulness in the Workplace,” the Environment, Safety, Health, & Quality Office, NREL.

How Far Away Is Death?
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