According to William A. Kahn’s 1990 paper, “Psychological safety [is] feeling able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career.” In the context of a global pandemic that forced people into working from home, the concept of psychological safety has once again gained traction.
The work-from-home and hybrid models under COVID-19 conditions have blurred work-life boundaries significantly. This blurring has taken its toll on employees, with Indeed reporting that 52% of the professionals surveyed experienced burnout during 2020-21.
The remote work culture has also brought previously off-work topics, like childcare, domestic chores, or health concerns, into the spotlight. Employees have to balance these domestic demands with work, and more than ever before, need to feel comfortable talking about them. This is where psychological safety comes in.
What does psychological safety look like in a post-COVID reality?
The concept of psychological safety has expanded to incorporate the increasingly remote work environment and its related dynamics. The phrase now helps examine how well a team works together based on several factors relevant in both the work-from-home and hybrid models. Let’s see what some of those factors are:
· Teams that play together stay together
Part of the appeal of physical workplaces is the water-cooler conversation. However, online or remote environments limit such interactions, negatively impacting the company by curbing productivity up to 21%.
Setting aside time in online meetings or inculcating a culture of 10-minute breaks for social interaction is a marker of improved psychological safety, showing that employees feel comfortable taking such time for themselves.
· Leader as an example
Of the many challenges in a remote or hybrid work model affecting work-life balance, a primary one is that employees feel incapable of unplugging from work. In such situations, having a team leader who shares his/ her struggles can support employees, encouraging them to share their challenges or even turn to their peers for possible solutions, further enhancing the company culture.
· Valuing active listening
Active listening involves understanding that which is said and also that left unsaid. Communicating without inhibitions is often a challenge in online meetings, but a team that actively listens will still note any sign of discomfort from anyone. Therefore, a team leader who actively listens can make better decisions after accounting for multiple perspectives.
Leaders can also employ various strategies to improve comfort and communication. These include creating smaller breakout rooms in online meetings, encouraging diversity (of both culture and opinion) to improve cohesion, conducting behavioral assessments, etc.
· Culture of trust
Employees in psychologically safe work environments trust each other and their leader. They know that every member is valued in the team, and trust that their leader is sensitive and observant enough to identify and deal with any negativity during interactions, swiftly and confidentially. This encourages honest communication.
Many organizations have tried to nurture these factors in varying degrees, yet Workhuman’s 2021 survey found that only 26% of about 3000 workers who were surveyed felt psychologically safe in their workplace. This feeling was lower among women and people from ethnic groups. Such statistics prove the importance of implementing mechanisms for creating psychologically safe workplaces to boost productivity and ensure employees feel recognized for their work at the end of a long day.