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Employee wellbeing: Four ways to create a psychologically safe culture


Workplace culture has a huge impact on our mental health, and employers have a responsibility to ensure that work is a psychologically safe place for all employees. Whether you’re new to the concept or your workplace culture needs some work, here are four ways you can create this. 

9th Jul 2020
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There are substantial issues that need to be resolved when it comes to workplace wellbeing. In the CIPD’s recent Good Work Index Survey one in four workers said that their job has a negative impact on their mental or physical health. One in five said that they always or often feel ‘exhausted’ at work, a similar proportion say they are under ‘excessive pressure’ and one in ten say they are ‘miserable’. It’s pretty bleak reading.

Creating a psychologically safe environment ensures that individuals are able to bring their whole selves to work, to feel included, valued and that their views and actions matter – that they matter.

I firmly believe that people should always be prioritised above profit, without exception. Caring for employees, customers and other stakeholders is an organisation’s responsibility and the best way to guarantee an ethical and sustainable future. It is also the right thing to do.

The role of company culture

So how can we ensure that we have workplace cultures that are conducive to a feeling of wellbeing, and that work doesn’t have a negative impact on mental and physical health, leaving people exhausted, feeling under excessive pressure or miserable?

‘Psychological safety’ is a term that is often used when talking about workplace culture. Creating a psychologically safe environment ensures that individuals are able to bring their whole selves to work, to feel included, valued and that their views and actions matter – that they matter.

Not only is a psychologically safe environment conducive to a feeling of wellbeing, it also brings multiple positive benefits for organisations, impacting on relationships with stakeholders, and profitability. It also directly impacts areas such as engagement, trust, teamwork, innovation, creativity, absence levels and retention.

Four ways to create a psychologically safe culture

HR has a crucial role to play in creating a work culture that allows people to develop this sense of psychological safety and safeguards the wellbeing of all employees.

1. Listen – and really hear people

This may seem obvious, but I really can’t stress the importance of this enough – listening is absolutely vital in ensuring an environment that is conducive to psychological safety and wellbeing. Organisations often pay lip service to ‘listening’ and giving employees a voice, treating these initiatives as a tick-box exercise rather than a means to actually ‘hear’ what is being said. Asking for feedback, having regular one-to-ones, employee surveys and similar initiatives are all great ways of taking the ‘pulse’ of an organisation, but they should just be the beginning of the process.

Ask yourself what is being done with the data that has been collected. If nothing, you can safely say that the organisation is merely paying lip service to the idea of listening.

Active listening ensures that employees have a voice and are empowered to take an active role in shaping and developing the organisation, which helps develop a sense of ownership, belonging, safety and respect.

Culture Pioneers link

2. Take concerns seriously

In my experience, individuals only raise concerns if they feel that something is having, or will have, a negative impact on them, on colleagues, on the organisation or on other stakeholders. Taking any concerns that have been raised seriously and acting on them where necessary is vital to psychological safety and employee wellbeing. This encourages a ‘speak up’ culture, which has a ripple effect of positive impacts for individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole.

3. Personalise it and show you care

Something I learnt early on in my career is the importance of taking an individualised approach. We all have our own challenges, barriers, personal circumstances, strengths, development needs, personalities, aspirations, and perceptions. Taking the same approach with everyone is unlikely to bring about particularly positive results or to aid wellbeing.

Supporting and taking steps towards understanding each individual is vital in ensuring wellbeing, caring about the ‘whole person’ as opposed to merely caring about outcomes and the job role or ‘box’ that the person may have been inadvertently slotted into.

4. Provide ‘safe spaces’

It’s vital to ensure that individuals and teams have the space they need to learn, explore, share ideas and collaborate. There needs to be spaces where people can be themselves without fear of their ideas or contributions being rejected in a negative way, and where putting forward an opinion or idea is encouraged without fear of being ignored, or of there being any kind of retribution.

A big part of this is to create shared values, visions and goals and to harness team power by leveraging strengths and encouraging open and honest communication.

What do you think is important in creating an environment that’s conducive to a feeling of wellbeing? Share your insights in the comments section below. 

Interested in this topic? Read Employee wellbeing: building a psychologically safe place for all.

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Joanna Suvarna
By Joanna Suvarna
10th Jul 2020 09:39

We asked Twitter folks for some top tips on 'Psychological Safety' and here's a Wakelet of their responses:

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