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Personal Finance

Creating psychological safety in the workplace

Employees whose opinions don’t matter have higher chances of depression
Employees whose opinions don’t matter have higher chances of depression and other mental Employees whose opinions don’t matter have higher chances of depression and other mental health challenges health challenges. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Psychological safety is present in teams with a great culture. The complexities around the psychology of human beings, the competitive commercial environment and other factors, perceived or otherwise can all threaten this state.

Psychological safety is the confidence an employee would have that they can freely express themselves and engage without fear of being humiliated or suffering negative consequences. This is easier said than done and few leaders can truly say they have not threatened the psychological safety of their teams at one point or felt threatened during their career.

It is about how safe one feels within a team and the security of their position in the team. In a psychologically safe space, one would not be afraid to voice their opinions within the group or disagree with others’ suggestions including the leader of the group. The leader would also not feel threatened or disrespected if the team did not agree with their proposed path of action but would evaluate the different points of view while focusing on the intended business outcome.

Employees whose opinions don’t matter have higher chances of depression and other mental Employees whose opinions don’t matter have higher chances of depression and other mental health challenges health challenges. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a negative work environment is linked to physical and mental health issues. Depression and anxiety not only damages the health of employees, but also result in approximately $ 1 trillion lost in low productivity per annum.

One of the key approaches that is within your control as a manager when it comes to improving the psychological safety of your team is active listening. You do this with an open mind by being empathetic and seeing things from someone else’s point of view.

It also involves identifying the emotions in someone’s tone of voice as they speak to you in order to recognise any emotions they may be relaying to you without sharing in words, for example does the person feel frustrated, worried, angry or anxious? When you listen actively, you are able to relay back the information shared with you, summarising not only the content but also capturing how someone feels. This builds trust and encourages an environment where people speak out and share ideas without the fear of being rebuked or completely ignored.

If you have a team of diverse personalities with some being very vocal and others being happy to listen, remember to ask the opinion of the more silent ones in the group and do take them under consideration, consistently pulling them into the conversation.

Psychological safety means that you as the team leader feel safe enough to take risks by approving unconventional ideas from your team despite the risk that there is a chance that they may not work out. A team that is seemingly enjoying a psychologically safe space in terms of the culture around communication but is rarely having their ideas and suggestions implemented is losing out on the benefits of psychological safety.

There could be a lot of brilliant innovation taking place but if nothing is ever implemented, eventually people will give up and stop contributing, lapsing back into the monotony of tried and tested approaches of delivery. This works if you are happy to be a surviving business but will definitely not be the way to go if you aspire to be a business from which other enterprises will learn from and want to emulate.

Beyond effective communication, other ideas you could explore around creating psychologically safe workplaces is to publicly display your vulnerability as a leader by admitting your mistakes to the team.

You may not have full control over the psychological safety of your team because different life experiences especially our childhood can affect how psychologically safe we feel. People have grown up with various challenges, all of which will definitely affect how psychologically safe they feel.

Someone who grew up being rebuked, humiliated by their teachers for giving incorrect answers or being bullied in the school playground will have developed coping mechanisms over time that may hinder them from feeling psychologically safe in a short span of time despite your best efforts. So, cut yourself some slack if it is taking longer than you had imagined.

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