The National Academies

TCRP F-32 [Anticipated]

Culture Reform: Psychological Health and Safety at the Workplace – The Missing Elements of Successful Workforce Retention and Recruitment in Transit

  Project Data
Funds: 350000
Staff Responsibility: Mariela Garcia-Colberg
Comments: In development
Fiscal Year: 2024

This project has been tentatively selected and a project statement (request for proposals) is expected to be available on this website. The problem statement below will be the starting point for a panel of experts to develop the project statement.

In March of 2023, APTA released a report addressing the workforce shortage. That study noted that 32% of former transit workers quit due to problems with management. These were detailed as transparency in decision-making, support during incidents, and general communication. Former transit workers ranked “listening to concerns” as the agencies’ number one action to encourage workers to stay. The report’s recommendations include building agency culture and morale improvement. Further, the report’s toolkit emphasizes creating safe spaces for employees from marginalized groups and general employee engagement, recognition, and acknowledgment. Among the research gaps identified are “What have agencies tried to improve workforce morale, and what has been the most effective?” The transit industry can benefit greatly from focusing on psychological health and safety in the workplace and other questions concerning organizational culture.

Recent literature posits that psychological safety, mindfulness, and attention to dignity at work present concepts, pathways, and tools to improve retention and recruitment strategies as well as overall organizational culture. Research shows that attention to these subjects can increase productivity, innovation, employee satisfaction, and long-term retention. The additional benefits to agencies can be measured by reducing accidents, injuries, incidents, absenteeism, healthcare costs, and litigation. These nontechnical skills, often referred to as soft skills, are, in reality, critical skills that have an enduring effect on culture. Training in these skill sets can cure a multitude of negative interactions responsible for overly negative and toxic work cultures. At least three of the hot topics in the transit industry—DEI, safety, and retention—can be successfully addressed using these tools and skill development organization-wide. For example, all three can be addressed, in part, by enhancing communication skills up and down an organization’s hierarchy and peer-to-peer. To a large extent, these skills have only recently been explored in transit research.

The transit industry has recognized and acted on workforce recruitment and retention issues for decades. However, little attention has been focused on identifying and reforming components of organizational culture that strongly influence recruitment and retention. As noted above, the current workplace research and literature have focused on various new concepts designed to address retention and employee well-being, safety, mental health, productivity, and creativity. The transit industry would benefit from research examining how this industry and others have begun implementing psychological health and safety, mindfulness-based practices, and similar initiatives.

The primary objective of this research is to identify and evaluate innovative methods and approaches for strengthening organizational culture. Culture reform aims to improve transit agencies’ retention, recruitment, and organizational culture. This may include items that might not be labeled as features of organizational culture but nevertheless contribute to the culture, broadly defined as “the way things are done” in the organization, including mindfulness-based techniques and strategies that would improve listening, team and leadership communications, mindful organizing, and other approaches that help establish a sense of psychological safety in the workplace. The research should also identify, define, and quantify the relationship between the transit industry’s safety culture and organizational culture.

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