Psychological safety and the Great Resignation

As employees return to their offices, leaders need to redefine what a positive culture looks like

Psychological safety and the Great Resignation

This article was produced in collaboration with Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.

A psychologically safe culture can improve work-life balance, enhance morale, supercharge productivity and encourage employee loyalty – something valuable to counteract the ongoing Great Resignation.

A toxic organizational culture can also impact the core of a company, harming mental health and risking severe burnout of employees. HR leaders who recognize both the protective and risk factor to organizational culture will be able to help move from toxic to psychologically safe.

Psychosocial Risk (PSR) factors in company culture

The pandemic acted as a catalyst for organizational change – both positive and negative. While employers scrambled to pivot to digitization overnight, many employees navigated a new remote working lifestyle. What began as a “perk” became a necessity. Working from home spiralled into a culture of overtime, burnout and isolation for some. Others realized that being away from the pressures and politics of the workplace was good for their mental health and their productivity. These divergent responses have left Canadian employers with a dilemma. Now, as organizations begin recalling employees to the workplace, leaders need to reassess what a psychologically safe culture looks like in hybrid work.

Read more: Will remote work thrive or die over the next two years?

Psychosocial factors are related to how we interact at work and include engagement, leadership, culture, work-life balance, and workload management, amongst others. These factors impact the mental well-being of your people – meaning that if one psychosocial factor is presenting a risk it can directly impact the others. For example, if leadership is not trusted, it can impact engagement and culture.  To maintain a positive culture, employers should regularly address each of the psychosocial factors and take meaningful action to protect psychological safety. This includes ongoing efforts to help leaders provide psychologically safe work environments and help employees achieve work success.

Building a culture of trust

As employees return to in-person work, there’s understandably a sense of apprehension. It’s important for employers to lead with empathy, compassion and trust during these times. A recent report from The Workforce Institute at UKG found that trust is one of the most important skills leaders must perfect, with 58% of employees claiming a lack of trust affects their loyalty. Building a culture of trust comes down to collaboration between employer, leaders and employees. Involve your people in making decisions that impact their work, build your mission statements and organizational values together – and ensure that both leaders and employees are respectfully held accountable to demonstrate these values. 

“Leaders and organizations can use the Workplace Strategies for Mental Health Building trust for leaders core competencies and behaviours to develop or recover the trust of employees,” says Mary Ann Baynton, director of collaboration and strategy, Workplace Strategies.

Upskilling leaders in conflict resolution

Leadership development is at the forefront of many employers’ minds moving in to 2023 – especially where conflict resolution is concerned. In relation to psychological safety, it’s essential that leaders understand how to problem solve without creating defensiveness or what we now know as “quiet quitting”.  Effective conflict management in the workplace leads to higher morale, fewer barriers to quality work and – perhaps surprisingly – the acknowledgement that some conflict can actually be productive. When employees and their management teams feel comfortable and supported enough to voice opposing opinions, collaboration ad innovation soars.

Read more: Current and former employees sue WestJet over vaccine mandate

“Our unique approach to Conflict Response for Leaders helps both parties maintain their dignity and have a clear way of working together professionally going forward,” says Baynton.

Inclusion is psychological safety

One integral aspect of building psychological safety revolves around diversity, equity and inclusivity – or DEI. More than just a buzzword, DEI is an essential must-have for employees, especially moving into 2023. A recent report from GoodHire found that 81% of employees would leave their current employer if they weren’t inclusive enough. In order to build a more psychologically safe culture and encourage trust, employers need to implement inclusivity beginning with recruitment and onboarding. When new hires know they’re free to bring their authentic selves to work, they feel comfortable enough to voice opinions without the fear of retribution. This can help sustain psychological safety in your organization, as issues are identified and addressed more effectively.

While the Great Resignation can cause you more work, counteracting this trend by building trust in leadership, improving your approach to conflict resolution and creating a more inclusive workplace will help create psychological safety, support more effective hybrid teams and help you move into 2023 from a place of sustainable success.

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