Why “No News” is Bad News

A client recently said to me, “No news is good news” is not ok with us.  He was talking about safety in his company.

I loved his comment.  When it comes to safety and healthy work culture for those working in high-risk environments, you could reframe it as “No news is bad news.”

This idea that no news is good is common wisdom in some industries.   There are some reasons why this makes sense.  If all is quiet on the front, you assume there is peace in the valley. If there is news, especially these days, it is usually bad.  But with safety—both physical and emotional—you want some news.  Communication, especially effective communication and the ability to conduct an uncomfortable conversations are necessary components of safety.

Why is no news not good news?  Because in cultures where speaking up is not consistently and skillfully practiced the risk of trouble goes up.  In fact, in every work culture, where people do not speak up and tell their truth in a respectful manner, business results are at risk.

In industries like health care, construction, manufacturing, engineering, and architecture, no news often means there is insufficient communication or no communication.  These are work worlds where things change all the time, and news of what is actually happening in the clinic, in the field or on the line is vital both to safety and business success.

What are some topics that workers can get too quiet about?

  • Reasons workers are quitting. One company I know of had 160 of 170 new  workers quit last year.  This is a type of hemorrhage that is very expensive, and also will impact safety.  Go up stream and get the news about why they are quitting.
  • Workers coming late to work. This is a low-level sign something is off.
  • Negative attitudes. Workers who are negative can poison a crew or a whole culture.  Behind every complaint there is at least one unmet need.  Find out what needs are not being met.
  • Unresolved interpersonal conflict between workers. This can be toxic and dangerous on many levels.  Get this news, from the right sources.
  • Superintendents and bosses who never hear constructive feedback. Is the trust level high enough throughout your company for people to tell the truth, even to those of higher rank?

Your job as a leader is to get the news and do the right thing.  Not easy. Almost never easy.  But possible.  And what is lost when you do not have those uncomfortable but needed conversations?  Make time to talk about what matters most!

About Tom Esch

Tom Esch works with health care companies, counties, cities, construction companies, business analysts, attorneys, executives, owners, managers and non-profit executives to grow interpersonal awareness and foster effective communication.