Employee well-being and mental health have received more attention in recent years, and for good reason. When the pandemic struck, many of our preconceptions about work-life balance were thrown out the window. Suddenly, childcare and healthcare issues became common topics of discussion for both HR and operational teams. Almost instantly, many firms were compelled to adopt remote labor, and concepts like “trust” and “communication” took on totally new meanings.
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This new reality has also raised new worries about Zoom fatigue, work-life balance, and staff burnout. Because they were afraid of losing their jobs, many people found themselves working longer hours and having fewer vacations.
When economic insecurity enters the picture, the conditions are perfect for unpleasant (and occasionally poisonous) work environments. Employees in these settings are afraid that “stepping out of line” may jeopardize their jobs. A large part of that dread stems from a lack of psychological protection.
Psychological safety, or the freedom to express oneself without fear of reprisal, allows employees to be themselves, take chances, admit mistakes, seek assistance, and communicate openly and honestly. However, while companies have historically prioritized physical safety in the workplace, psychological safety has not always gotten the same level of attention.
We’ll look at what psychological safety is, why it’s important, and how your company can encourage it in today’s workplace. We’ll also discuss how specific HR technology may assist HR professionals to foster a psychologically secure business culture and guarantee that every employee feels safe and appreciated inside your firm.
What Is Psychological Safety?
Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, and organizational behavioral scientist, created the term “team psychological safety” in 1999. Psychological safety, according to Edmondson, is “the assumption that one will not be reprimanded or humiliated for speaking out with ideas, questions, worries, or blunders, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Psychological safety is fostering an environment in which all workers feel embraced and respected, and where they are empowered to express themselves freely without apprehension of retaliation.
Assume there is a boss who consistently rejects innovative ideas or proposals that disrupt the status quo. As a result, people on that manager’s team are hesitant to contribute innovative ideas for fear of being publicly ridiculed or humiliated.
Assume those same employees have a supportive boss who fosters a psychologically secure atmosphere for the team. Employees would be more eager to submit creative ideas in this case, knowing that even if the team does not accept them, their contributions will be welcomed and freely debated by their colleagues. Unlike the previous scenario, this one emphasizes a psychologically comfortable setting in which employees may talk honestly and freely.
Importance of Psychological Safety
The employee is the first to benefit from psychological safety. Numerous studies have shown that when we are constantly anxious — in this example, from the worry of saying or doing the wrong thing, or of jeopardizing our position or job – our health suffers. Our cortisol levels are high, our brains are always prepared to fight or run, and our creativity (and joy) are non-existent.
Yes, improving psychological safety in the workplace promotes employees’ mental health — but it isn’t the only advantage. Here are a few more reasons why your business needs to cultivate psychological safety.
1. It boosts productivity and teamwork
Psychological safety may increase team cooperation by making employees feel comfortable expressing ideas, voicing concerns, acknowledging mistakes, and asking questions. According to one 2020 study, psychological safety encourages employees to express themselves more freely and to be more engaged. This can help your staff collaborate better and, as a consequence, create greater results for your company.
2. It promotes learning and development
Nobody can flourish in an environment where they are instructed to hide their shortcomings or only promote their successes. When employees are encouraged to think critically and speak frankly about prior mistakes, a climate is created that recognizes that every experience is an opportunity to learn and improve. This openness encourages employees to take chances, test new ideas, and learn along the way – even if their performance falls short of expectations.
3. It encourages inclusion and belonging
Employees are encouraged to present their real selves to work without fear of being criticized or shunned because of psychological safety. It promotes an inclusive atmosphere and allows employees to form stronger working ties with their coworkers.
And, you guessed it, all of this leads to — you guessed it — creativity, productivity, and retention. So, the next time a CEO says, “We need greater creativity, productivity, and retention,” direct them to psychological safety.
How to Encourage Psychological Safety at Work
Your organization has just announced the implementation of a new performance management philosophy that requires managers to rate their employees depending on how much they have contributed to the success of their teams. You recall team sessions when you played devil’s advocate, poking holes in ideas and challenging the current quo.
Your suspicions are confirmed when you read in your review that you “question everything.”
At the conclusion of the cycle, your boss shrugs and tells you she had to place someone in the lowest 10% of the team. By the next team meeting, you’ve determined to keep your mouth shut no matter what – speaking out appears to be too hazardous.
Unfortunately, various barriers make fostering psychological safety in the workplace difficult. Fortunately, there are methods to overcome these obstacles, frequently with the assistance of HR technology solutions. Here are some frequent workplace psychological safety hurdles and ideas for how to overcome them.
1. Manager Assistance
Challenge: Managers have a significant effect on employee experience; they assist decide their direct reports’ tasks, setting goals for them, evaluating their overall performance, and eventually creating their day-to-day working environment inside your firm.
Since psychological safety is developed from the top down, how your managers lead their staff is important. While good people managers may have a beneficial impact on their employees, ineffective or poorly trained managers can have the opposite effect. Employee engagement may be harmed by dismissing employee ideas, assigning unrealistic targets to direct reports, micromanaging excessively, and communicating poorly or unclearly. It is your company’s obligation to guarantee that every people leader has the necessary support, management training, and resources. It is also your company’s job to set the barriers and rules that support, rather than hinder, managers in achieving this aim.
Recommendation: Your company’s policies and conventions are the first places to seek answers. What impact do your programs have on managers’ capacity to generate psychological safety? Get a few managers together for an open conversation (as well as a group of employees from around the organization), and before you do anything else, address the policies that are impeding their progress.
Look at the systems that support those (now enabling) policies next. A good manager may be transformed into a great one with the correct tools. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to lose sight of the qualities that make you a successful leader. Performance conversations, career planning, and wellness check-ins all require time and emotional energy, so once managers have been trained on these elements, your company should look for a tool that makes it easier for them to engage in those positive behaviors by guiding, reminding, and making it all extremely simple.
2. Continuous Alignment
Challenge: Change happens quickly, and your staff must be aware of how shifting corporate goals affect their jobs. With many workers working in a hybrid or remote work environment (and often in separate time zones), transparency has never been more important. Poor and inconsistent communication can leave employees feeling alienated and confused, causing them to jump to worst-case scenarios, stifling their creativity, and prompting worry. Expectations may be misaligned if an employee is suffering.
Recommendation: Every company needs dependable methods for employees to interact asynchronously and in real-time. The appropriate technologies can help your staff stay connected regardless of where they are. Email, chat services like Slack or Microsoft Teams, and other mass communication platforms like intranets like Notion are the most apparent technologies to include here. When using several tools, it’s critical to establish expectations about which platform will be utilized for whatever type of communication. For example:
- Email department heads for weekly updates.
- Executives would watch and answer anonymous Q&A forums.
- Zoom in for the CEO’s quarterly “State of the Union” video.
An objectives program is another important alignment tool: what the firm’s strategic goals are, how the organization is tracking them, and how a specific team’s work contributes to those goals. All of this information gives employees confidence that they are on the right track. That kind of openness is made possible with an effective and integrated objectives platform.
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3. Feedback Culture
Challenge: Employees seek feedback and expect it on a regular basis. According to Gallup data, employees who received “meaningful” feedback from their bosses in the previous week were nearly four times more likely to be engaged than employees who did not get feedback.
However, obtaining a single point of view during yearly or biannual performance assessments is insufficient.
Employees need to receive real-time feedback from their bosses and coworkers in order to accomplish their best job; this helps them absorb advice as it comes in rather than weeks or months later. Feedback is also an important component of psychological safety; in some ways, it is the foundation of that safety. Without a feedback culture, teams will struggle to challenge one another’s ideas.
Recommendation: Feedback necessitates sensitivity on the side of both the person offering and receiving the feedback. Individuals providing feedback must muster the guts to communicate their opinions or experiences. The recipient must be receptive to hearing someone else’s assessment of their performance or behavior. This vulnerability is what strengthens (and necessitates) psychological safety.
Healthy feedback is established in the workplace culture and shared when possibilities for improvement appear in a psychologically secure atmosphere. Continuous feedback, ranging from constructive criticism to daily appreciation, provides workers with insight into how their work affects the business and is seen by others. Employees are left to conjecture about their performance without it, which can increase stress and induce a fight-or-flight reaction.
4. Employee Contribution
Challenge: Your HR team is working in the dark without visibility into the employee experience. Businesses are unable to rapidly detect that their communication procedures, for example, are producing stress, or that their high quotas are promoting an extremely competitive environment. Your company can buy the greatest conferencing equipment, but what if the true issue your employees are dealing with is meeting fatigue? Companies are unlikely to notice early signs of burnout or undue stress, much less understand and treat their core causes unless they take the time to solicit employee input.
Recommendation: Your company should have processes and programs in place to listen to people and understand how to adapt to their demands and the changing environment. With the correct tools, such as weekly updates, pulse and engagement surveys, aggregate analytics, and free-form comments, executives and HR teams can detect “hot spots” where psychological safety is jeopardized and address them before they become problems.
Creating a psychologically secure workplace helps both individuals and your business thrive, but it takes time. Businesses that assist managers, maintain alignment, promote feedback, and take the time to listen to their employees gain the benefits of a psychologically secure environment that is, better cooperation, productivity, and engagement among their teams. With an increasing number of employees concerned about the future, firms must respond sooner rather than later.
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