The Difference Between Actual Safety and Perceived Safety

Forward-thinking risk management professionals should look to implement programs that both improve the actual safety of their customers and the perception of safety.

Keeping customers safe and ensuring that customers feel safe are two different challenges, and successful companies proactively look for ways to address both.

Maintaining actual safety is a fundamental requirement of doing business. Consumers expect the food they purchase won’t make them sick, the cars they drive won’t malfunction, and that the roof of a retailer won’t collapse on top of them. They also expect the employees they interact with to pose little risk to their physical, mental, or financial health.
In each of these cases, businesses have legal, ethical, and fiduciary responsibilities to maintain high standards of safety.


But beyond meeting the safety standards of regulators, businesses should also look at the perceived safety of their business. Customers might be safe, but a history of unsafe incidents might make them feel otherwise. Conversely, businesses may have effectively positioned themselves as a safe and trustworthy organization but have neglected to make operational changes that match their message.

The perception of safety is critical in maintaining trust, brand loyalty, and credibility with customers and employees.
Forward-thinking risk management professionals should look to implement programs that both improve the actual safety of their customers and their feeling of safety.

Unique Challenges for Managing Employee-based Risk and Safety

Employee-based risk presents several major challenges in companies’ efforts to provide safe products and services.

  1. Employees are people, and people can be unpredictable. An obvious but important hurdle in mitigating workforce risk is the simple fact that employees are people. Ensuring the products your customers interact with are safe is far more straightforward than ensuring the employees they interact with pose them no threat. Employees have different personalities, motivators, and stressors that can reduce the effectiveness of a one-size-fits-all risk mitigation strategy.

  2. Changing work models make identifying criminal behavior after hire more difficult. As remote work, contract work, and gig jobs grow, there are fewer built-in signals that might alert an organization to investigate further. The “work when and where you want” model has increased flexibility for the workforce but made it more challenging for organizations to know when an employee has been incarcerated.

  3. Consumers want safety and fairness. Initiatives like “ban the box” continue to gain traction, and there’s a growing feeling that just because someone made a mistake in the past, they shouldn’t be continually punished by prospective employers and government social service providers.

  4. Americans are obsessed with background checks, but often don’t fully understand them. Background checks have broad market adoption and strong public support. But, the average consumer has a very loose understanding of the background screening process. Typically, they do not understand there is no “standard” background check and no centralized source of criminal records.

These distinctions make identifying and managing criminal risk among employees all the more challenging. However, the upside is clear: Creating and communicating policies that help reduce criminal risk among your employees are a win-win in improving safety and building trust with your customers.

Identifying Criminal Activity Post-hire Improves Actual and Perceived Safety

This is the mindset that both companies and background screeners should share: how can we make decisions that genuinely improve safety yet also have a clear, tangible message that customers and employees understand? 

To that end, background screeners and employers alike need to shift their perspective beyond the traditional pre-hire background check. Because criminal activity is one of the clearest indicators of risk, employers shouldn't limit the search for criminal activity to the years before someone is hired.

Over the past decade, some CRAs have begun offering regular re-checks (typically annually or every two years), but this approach is limited in effectiveness.

Knowing as soon as possible when an employee is involved in potential criminal activity helps employers maintain safe business environments and build a reputation of proactive, customer-first decision making.

To be blunt, customers should be aware that an individual recently convicted of assault will not be hired in a customer-facing role. But by that same logic, customers expect that an active employee charged with assault will be, at least, temporarily removed from that customer-facing role.

This is why true post-hire criminal monitoring matters: people still get in trouble after they’ve passed a background check, and employers need awareness as soon as possible to ensure customers, employees, and the company remains safe and stable. 

A real value-add of continuous criminal monitoring is that the value proposition is clear. The concept of "safety" is broad, and building clear messaging around it is challenging. Employers must ensure that their message of safety cuts through the noise. And while there are countless strategies for improving safety, how many of them are as easy to communicate to your customer as: "We'll know immediately when an employee may have been  involved in a crime, and we can investigate and respond quickly."

Continuous Criminal Monitoring Just Makes Sense

Sometimes, simple is best. Knowing in near real-time when an employee may have been involved in a crime has a clear and plain value proposition. This initiative has the added bonus of setting your company apart by improving actual safety and the perception of safety among your stakeholders. Implementing a post-hire criminal monitoring program sends a signal to employees, consumers, and the media that you care about safety. 

To learn more about our continuous monitoring solution and how it can help your company reduce employee-based risk and achieve both actual and perceived safety, contact us here.