Workplaces should help people thrive, so why does the opposite often happen?

Walking meetings, lunchtime yoga, healthy snacks and gym membership - workplace wellness should be part of our everyday. As National Workplace Wellness Day approaches, companies across Ireland are considering the physical ways in which they can promote wellness. But when it comes to building a climate of wellness, we must also look beyond physical health and consider psychological safety.

Why is psychological safety important?

In 2016 the ERSI found that stress, anxiety and depression were the second highest cause of work-related stress in Ireland. Eurofound discovered that 22% of Irish workers experienced stress at work ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’, placing us 10th highest of the 34 European countries surveyed. When people don’t feel psychologically safe, they become stressed. This negatively impacts their health which has a knock-on effect on engagement, productivity and performance.

What is psychological safety & wellness?

At its most basic, people feel psychologically well at work when they feel comfortable to be themselves, and express themselves. People should feel comfortable enough to take educated risks, speak their minds and stick their necks out with no fear of having it cut off.  A two-year study by Google’s re:Work found psychological safety to be the single most important attribute ineffective team performance.

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Once done with integrity, workplaces are platforms for people to thrive, and when employees are thriving the sky is the limit.

Here are some simple ways to build psychological safety into your workplace.

Get the basics right

A few years ago I was working to a tight deadline. A senior colleague called into my office to see if I was going for lunch. I hadn’t time. About 15 minutes later the same lady came back to my office with a cup of tea and half a sandwich (half of her sandwich). It was an act of kindness that stays with me to this day. She knew I needed to eat, she was my senior and she made sure that I did eat. Simple acts of connection and kindness pay dividends. Take your lunch, make sure others take their lunch, finish work on time and don’t send emails out of working hours. Actions speak louder than words - use your actions wisely.

Talk - Person to Person

Just like you, the people you work with are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and friends. They have the same worries, concerns and thoughts as you. You spend 40 of the 168 hours available to you every week together so open conversations that build and establish trust.

• Ask yourself- how well do I know the people I work with?

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• Do I know what motivates them?

• Do I know what’s important to them personally and professionally or do I keep them at arms length?

• What is one small thing can I do every day to improve my connections with the people I work with?

Face-to-Face

Where possible, prioritise face-to-face interactions. Rather than send the email, get up and talk or arrange a coffee. If you can’t do face-to-face, pick up the phone and talk. Without social connections built on rapport, workplace engagement and creativity is in survive rather than thrive mode. Choose personal face-to-face connections when at all possible.

Understand differences

Try to understand how each person differs and be respectful of those differences. Open conversations that explore preferred ways of working. A great starting place is

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• When (and how) do you prefer to give and receive feedback?

• What is your preferred method of communication? e.g. phone, text, in person, email etc.

• What is important to you?

• What is your most productive time of the day?

• How can I help to make work more enjoyable for you?

Mistakes are part of growth

Let the people you work with know that mistakes are normal. Yes, there are high standards and accountability but anyone, including you, may miss a problem that needs to be called out. Sometimes it will be right, other times wrong. Meet the observation with curiosity and figure out a way for you and the team to grow and learn from it. If you are interested in some more ideas on establishing psychological safety in the workplace, check out Amy Edmondson TEDx Talk on Building a psychologically safe workplace.

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