How to create a psychologically safe workplace

As employee mental health declines, HR must do more to protect their people

How to create a psychologically safe workplace

For many people, bringing their authentic self to work simply isn’t an option. Whether it’s a toxic company culture, an oppressive management team, or unrealistic C-suite expectations, many employees still feel uncomfortable expressing their ideas and their opinions to their colleagues or leaders. As offices reopen and organizations adopt hybrid working models, it’s time to reassess your commitment to providing a psychologically safe workplace. HRD spoke to Tamisha Parris, founder of diversity consulting firm Parris Consulting, on how expectations around psychological safety have changed post-pandemic – and how trust is key to security.

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“True psychological safety is when you know you can ask for help without fear of being reprimanded,” Parris told HRD. “It’s that trusting relationship which allows employees to feel valued and respected – especially when it comes to their mental health and wellbeing.”

The events of the past year have completely upended both our personal and our professional lives. Employee expectations have changed in almost every respect – from organizational wellbeing initiatives, to perks, to career development, and diversity plans. In regards to psychological safety, employees are now craving stability, security, and, most of all, trust.

Research from The Workforce Institute at UKG found that 64% of employees believe trust has a direct impact on their sense of belonging at work. What’s more, 24% of people have actually left a company because of a total lack of trust from their employer. This only further highlights the overriding need for a more psychologically inclusive environment – especially as we look to re-enter the workplace.

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“The pandemic really impacted how we all think about psychological safety in the workplace,” added Parris. “When COVID hit, we were thrown in at the deep end. Everything was uncertain – from our jobs to our health – meaning anxiety levels skyrocketed. Being surrounded by so much loss on such an unprecedented scale impacted the way we worked. Employees had to learn to adapt quickly, adopting to new video and remote technology, taking on new responsibilities in a remote environment. Similarly, re-entry back into the workplace is just as daunting for teams. Having to re-learn old skills and ways of communicating will leave people feeling psychologically unsafe and hyper vulnerable. If not handled correctly, employees will undoubtedly feel unheard and unappreciated.”

So, what’s to be done? In reality, providing a psychologically safe workplace isn’t rocket science – but it starts with being honest with yourself. Does your culture allow for open conversations between leaders and their teams? For instance, say a colleague approaches you about a mistake you’ve made – don’t react with anger or indignation. Thank them for their feedback and move on. Taking this one step further, don’t wait for someone else to initiate conversations – actively solicit opinions. Ask your co-workers how you can improve – ask them for their viewpoints. 

“Leaders need to ensure that they’re leading,” Parris told HRD. “This culture of communication and trust should emanate from the top down. What’s more, employers really need to reassess their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and see if they need updating. Our re-entrance into the workplace is a wonderful opportunity to ensure that your resources are aligned with your values. It’s time to remind your people that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to seek help if you’re struggling, it’s okay to be vulnerable. We all collectively need to go further in removing the stigma around mental health – only then will we be able to boast a truly psychologically safe and healthy workplace.”

This feature was released as part of UKG’s exclusive magazine. Discover what HR teams can expect from 2022 and beyond and learn strategies for the new era of work here.

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