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What’s Needed to Ensure Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Burnout hasn’t gone anywhere. Future Forum found global burnout rates of 40%, with countries like France and the U.K. reporting rates of nearly 50%. That’s even more than the figures reported at the apex of the COVID crisis.

What’s needed to ensure psychological safety in the workplace and ensure burnout and turnover don’t ruin productivity? Read on to find out.

A lack of psychological safety in the workplace leading to elevated claims

Let’s start with a definition.

In the team context, psychological safety, according to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, refers to the shared believe that it’s OK to take risks, express ideas and concerns, speak up with questions, and admit mistakes – all without fear of negative consequences.  

Per the research, a lack of this shared belief results directly in poorer employee wellbeing, including higher levels of stress, burnout, and turnover.

But some workers experiencing a lack of psychological safety in their workplace aren’t going away quietly. Which means employers don’t only have to worry about burnout eroding productivity.

What else?

Well, those employees are also arguing that employers have violated their duty of care obligations and asking for compensation.

In Australia, to cite one example, a staggering 90% of the country’s mental health compensation claims have been linked to work-related preventable pressure and stress.

This, as we see elevated numbers of people experiencing chronic stress and burnout, suggests that employers will increasingly be placed on the financial hook for not ensuring psychological safety in the workplace.

Three best practices to ensure psychological safety in the workplace

What then can employers do to mitigate the financial and compliance risk? They need to get serious about ensuring psychological safety in their workplaces.

How to go about it?

They’re any number of measures that employers can take. But first they’ll have to conduct in-depth audits to understand the current state of wellbeing.

And then, deputized wellbeing committees, with the data in tow from wellbeing management software platforms and vocal senior-leadership support behind them, should propose interventions.

What interventions?

Three best-practice actions to ensure psychological safety in the workplace include the following:

1. Design and manage work to minimize harm

Here, at a bare minimum, employers will have to meet safety requirements to reduce risks to mental injury. Beyond that, employers will also have to provide opportunities for workers to have control over their work schedules. They might also provide opportunities for workers to be more involved in decision making.

2. Promote protective factors to maximize resilience

This broad intervention includes measures to build an organizational culture of flexibility on where, when, and how work is performed. Employers should also provide more opportunities for employee participation in organizational (not just team-) level decisions as well as more opportunities for professional development opportunities.

3. Enhance personal resilience for the entire workplace and those at risk

Employers should also provide stress management and resilience training, using evidence-based approaches. This training shouldn’t be generic, though. Those in high-risk jobs deserve tailored training and likely even mentoring and coaching. Meanwhile, the organization should promote regular physical activity at the worksite as a curative for stress and burnout.

Of course, these best-practice interventions only scratch the surface of what’s needed to ensure psychological safety at the workplace. To learn what else is needed, download our Guide to Wellbeing Management & Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace.

Download Guide to Wellbeing Management & Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace