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The New Workplace Imperative: Psychological Safety, Inclusion, and Wellbeing in Modern Organizations

today2023.09.13. 2505 5

Background

Author: Réka Deák
Reka is dedicated to fostering human-centric work-life cultures. As the Wellbeing Designers founder, she empowers organizations for sustainable high performance and resilience, nurturing self-leadership and positivity.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

Explore the profound impact of psychological safety on employee well-being and HR’s role in architecting change. Join the journey to a workplace defined by resilience, empathy, and well-being. Delve into the intersection of psychological safety with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts. Uncover strategies for fostering inclusivity in the age of remote and hybrid work. Gain insights into how prioritizing psychological safety can reduce stress, burnout, and turnover rates.

In the ever-evolving landscape of the post-COVID workforce, employee expectations have undergone a significant transformation. Today, employees seek more than just being a mere voice within their organisations; they yearn to be truly heard, understood, and supported. As such, creating an empathetic exchange has become paramount, emphasising the need for inclusive workplaces and psychological safety. Wellbeing is not only an intervention or initiative anymore. Wellbeing is becoming the new culture!

In preparation for a panel discussion at the Horizon Summit in Amsterdam, I invite you for a short journey to explore the connection between wellbeing, psychological safety, inclusion and their importance. All are very popular terms nowadays!

Confusion
Do you know the story about the two young fish who swim in the sea? They pass by an older fish who greets them: “Hey guys, how is the water today?” As they swim further one fish looks at the other: “What the heck is water?”

Do you sometimes feel like one of these fish? Either the old or the younger one? I do. Especially when it comes to my heart topic of wellbeing. And when it comes to psychological safety and inclusion. There are people like the old fish who seem to understand it very well. And there are the ones like the young fish who are a bit confused.

There is a lot of buzz around as well as lots of actions with the best intentions. These are still topics not always easy to grasp. To define what it is for me. To define what it is for my team. To define what it is for an organisation. (The story of the fish is inspired by and borrowed from the contemporary philosopher, David Foster Wallace.)


Understanding Psychological Safety
It is difficult to say something new about psychological safety so I will try to give you some perspective. Psychological safety, as coined by Professor Amy Edmondson, refers to a shared belief within a team that encourages risk-taking, open expression of ideas,
questioning, and admitting mistakes, all without fear of negative repercussions. When employees feel psychologically safe, remarkable transformations occur within the organization.

The most famous real-life example is Project Aristotele at Google which is a landmark study on team effectiveness, revealed that the most successful teams were not determined by the individual members’ skills or qualifications but by the presence of psychological safety within the team. When team members feel safe to voice their opinions and ideas, collaboration and innovation thrive, ultimately leading to improved performance and overall well-being.

Some thought leaders are challenging the term of psychological safety like Otti Vogt. In his article published also here on The HR Congress Magazine pages, he is saying that safety can end up in the comfort zone that prevents us from learning. He is suggesting to consider rather “radical candor” or his newly invented term of “psychological hope – an environment conducive and protective of mutual “co-elevation”.

Benefits of Psychological Safety
Enhanced Engagement and Motivation: When individuals believe that their opinions and contributions matter, they become more engaged and motivated at their work. A psychologically safe environment empowers them to speak up and actively participate in
team discussions without fear of judgment or retribution.

Improved Decision-making: In a psychologically safe space, team members feel comfortable voicing their opinions and concerns. This fosters a diverse range of perspectives, leading to more informed and innovative decision-making processes.

Cultivating a Learning Culture: Embracing mistakes becomes a cornerstone of a psychologically safe workplace. Team members feel at ease sharing their errors and learning from them, leading to continuous improvement and a culture of growth. (Here we can
consider how Otti Vogt has challenged this as shared at the beginning of this article.)

Inclusive Workplaces and Psychological Safety
My favourite quote when it comes to inclusion is by Brene Brown: “I don’t want to fit in. I want to belong.” Psychological safety is intertwined with DEI efforts. Creating an inclusive workplace where individuals can freely express their diverse identities without judgment enhances productivity, drives innovation, and positively impacts the organization’s bottom line. Celebrating, respecting, and valuing diversity within work teams ultimately leads to a more positive and open-minded work environment.

“I don’t want to fit in. I want to belong.”

Brene Brown

Since covid remote and hybrid work add an additional challenge for organisations and nurturing psychological safety takes on added significance. Providing remote and on-site employees with equal opportunities to contribute and be heard fosters a sense of belonging and inclusivity. Organisations have been not only implementing remote work policies and supporting mental health initiatives. However, employees have made it clear that they require more than surface-level solutions.

They seek workplaces where empathy is not just a buzzword but a tangible reality, where their emotional needs are genuinely heard, and where they can thrive without fear of judgement or reprisals. Employee surveys are nowadays called as Employee Listening tools. Using a different language matters. It is not enough though. Taking action on the results of an employee survey usually leads to wellbeing initiatives that need to happen cross-funcionally.

The Impact of Psychological Safety on Employee Wellbeing:
Creating a Wellbeing Culture has many different ingredients and one of them is definitely Psychological Safety. Research has shown that organisations lacking psychological safety suffer significant downsides in terms of employee well-being. Stress, burnout, and turnover rates are notably higher in environments where employees feel afraid to speak up or express their true selves. Prioritising psychological safety is, therefore, essential in promoting the overall well-being of employees and the organisation.

The Road to Clarity: HR as the Architect of Change
As time passes after covid, HR professionals find themselves at the forefront of driving meaningful change within organisations. Josh Bersin predicts that CHROs are becoming the second most important people in organisations after CEOs. By embracing the imperative of empathy, fostering psychological safety, and creating inclusive workplaces, HR can empower employees to flourish and reach their full potential. They are creating a Wellbeing Culture. Companies that understand and respond to these changing expectations will be better equipped to navigate the challenges of the modern workplace and emerge as leaders in a world defined by resilience, empathy, and wellbeing.

And just like that as time is passing more and more people will be able to answer the question of the old fish: “How is the water today?”

– How is your wellbeing at work?


Join Reka at the HORIZON SUMMIT in Amsterdam, where she will be leading a panel discussion on Enhancing Wellbeing Through Creating Inclusive Workplaces as cornerstone of Psychological Safety

Written by: Eva Mezosi

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