There are many factors that effect psychological safety in the workplace. A simple breakdown in communication can lead to increasing tension and stress in a working relationship. Everyone has a role to play to ensure a psychologically safe working environment. Read on to learn strategies for you from a practical example, and to learn about the impact and obligations for your employer.
In a 2015 research report by Morneau Shepell, data reveals that:
- 83% of employers indicate that they believe stress and other mental health issues play a role in employee absenteeism.
- 43% of employees indicate that their organization does not create an environment that supports mental wellness on the job.
With the introduction of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety, there is increasing pressure on organizations to promote mental health, and prevent psychological harm at work. The National Standard focuses on 13 factors, based on current research, for employers. One of those 13 factors is Psychological Protection. The bottom line is, ignoring psychological health in the workplace is costly.
Psychological protection is important on many levels. A homecare worker might experience psychologically unsafe interactions with a client, a client’s family member, a colleague, or a leader. A simple breakdown in communication can have a significant impact on psychological safety in the workplace.
Advocating for your own psychological support takes courage. Let’s take an example.
Melodie is a home support worker, new to the job after going back to school as a mature student. Melodie is feeling less self-confident now in this new role. She is used to being strong and capable, but now every time she goes to speak with her boss, Hannah, she feels put down. She is increasingly discouraged and doubtful about her career decision. She is also struggling with a recent separation and is reluctant to talk about it with Hannah because it will be seen as just another excuse. She gets overwhelmed when working with a difficult client and doesn’t know where to turn.
Hannah has answered Melodie’s questions many times over and is frustrated. She has tried hard to help Melodie but now she wonders why Melodie doesn’t pay better attention. She knows she shouldn’t be short tempered, but she wonders, is Melodie ADD?
Psychological protection is all about a work environment where everyone feels safe to speak up. There is a communication block between Melodie and Hannah which will erode trust and may lead to conflict. Unaddressed, this will have a big impact on the organization and on client care. Research shows that in organizations that create a culture where employees can speak up, there is more compliance to rules and regulations, fewer errors, fewer accidents, and fewer injuries.
Both Hannah and Melodie have a role to play to improve communication.
[bctt tweet=”Advocating for your own psychological support takes courage.” username=”safetyline”]
Suspend your judgement
Our own perception of a situation can get in the way of understanding what is really going on for someone else. Question your assumptions, and drive your curiosity.
As the supervisor, it is important that Hannah works to establish a reconnection with Melodie. She can open the dialogue by getting curious about her observations. Setting aside her diagnosis and sitting down with Melodie to build trust and understanding will make a big difference. Hannah might start the conversation with a compassionate opener. A little self-disclosure can help to break the ice:
“Melodie, I have noticed that we seem to be at cross-purposes when we talk. It seems you are frustrated with me, and perhaps I am a little frustrated as well. How have things been going for you lately? I’d like to sit down and figure out how I can better support you.”
When confronted with anger or frustration, remind yourself that people yell for themselves, not at you. Approach others with empathy and acknowledge that frustration. Take ownership for your own contribution to the situation.
Melodie can work to manage her own emotions when meeting with Hannah. When we are feeling self-doubt and less confident, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that others are out to get you. Melodie can practice positive self-talk, and remind herself of situations from her past that have worked well for her. Focusing on breathing during the actual conversation will help maintain composure. It is very important for Melodie to take courage and advocate for the support she needs.
Reach out and build yourself a network of support with other colleagues. Make introductions and facilitate a network for those around you as well.
Both Melodie and Hannah can work to build connections with other colleagues. It is important for Hannah to demonstrate for all her staff that they have resources, and that they don’t always need to come to her. It is also important for Hannah to share information with her staff about other organizational resources such as the family assistance plan.
Small steps that are within your control can have a huge impact on your working environment and its psychological safety.
About the Author
Marjorie Munroe is a Chartered Mediator, Ombudsman and Workplace Fairness Analyst specializing in workplace conflict resolution and assessment.
Marjorie believes that people who feel heard, understood and acknowledged are more engaged and more productive. Through mediation and facilitation, Marjorie works with clients to improve working relationships and workplace conflict management systems.
Marjorie is an instructor and Mediation Assessor with the Appropriate Dispute Resolution Institute of Alberta (www.ADRAlberta.com) and with Mount Royal University Continuing Studies (www.mtroyal.ca). An active member of the Canadian Society of Training and Development, and a Certified Training Practitioner, Marjorie works extensively with the Government of Alberta training in their Supervisory Certificate Program.