What is Psychological Safety and Why Organisations Need To Know About It
Psychological safety is where every single person in an organisation is able to bring their whole self to work. No hiding, no censoring and no pretending to be someone else.
When you have a psychologically safe environment, people communicate and collaborate effectively and a culture of curiosity and creativity is cultivated.
Are Organisations Psychologically Safe Places?
In 2019 The Society for Human Resource Management published their research, concluding that incidents of workplace violence are more common than you might think.
“1 out of 7 employees don’t feel safe at work.”
This raises the question. Are organisations psychologically safe places?
OSHA defines workplace violence as:
“Any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behaviour that occurs at the work site.”
We hear stories of physical violence taking place in work environments, but what about incidents of psychological violence; those moments that impact someone’s mental state, which then affects other parts of the body (such as emotions and physical health).
When workplace violence is discussed, physical violence is usually top of mind. Conversations about psychological violence are rare with instances being less easily identified and addressed.
As a result, employees are less open to report incidents of psychological violence as they are physical violence.
What Affects Our Sense Of Safety In The Workplace?
Sense of safety is an individualised experience. One employee’s experience may be vastly different to another.
There are many aspects that affect your sense of safety. Naturally, most people think of physical safety first.
But what about psychological safety? What affects our sense of psychological safety in the workplace?
We want to feel like we belong; in the environment, within the culture of the organisation and we want to know our place within the team.
But so often we are battling in our own minds about not being good enough, being an ‘imposter’ and worrying about being ‘found out’.
All anyone wants is to fit in and to be accepted; by our colleagues, managers and leadership team.
We are human and have so much going on in our minds.
- We are triggered by conversations with our colleagues; we feel tension and don’t know why.
- We struggle to be our true selves with our team mates and they struggle too.
- We want to build strong relationships, communicate effectively and trust the people we spend the majority of our waking hours with.
Our workloads are often very heavy and there is pressure to deliver to deadlines and to achieve targets. This exacerbates stress levels, which impacts on creativity and productivity, and has a knock-on effect with how we speak and interact with our colleagues and team mates.
Because we don’t have close connections to our colleagues, we don’t fully trust them and feel safe and we feel we can’t speak up; to voice issues, express our concerns and ask questions. Not being able to voice our opinions and ideas, we feel like we are not contributing and being heard amongst our colleagues.
What about if we make a mistake? There may be repercussions for our actions, but we may also worry about being ridiculed or punished in some way.
And then there is the bit where we compare ourselves (and our skills) to other people, wanting to look good amongst our colleagues and caring about what other people think about us.
To cope, we all wear a ‘professional mask’ to work, to protect ourselves. To ensure we stay safe. We don’t disclose too much personal information, worrying that it may become public knowledge. We have concerns about stigma, stereotypes and unconscious bias. These can manifest as intimidation, discrimination, harassment and bullying.
And when this occurs, there is a real sense of threat. Fear underlies every moment we spend at work and we are in constant ‘fight or flight’ mode.
The Impact Unsafe Working Environments Have On Organisations
When an organisation has a psychologically unsafe environment, employees hide their true self; from their colleagues, team, managers and senior leadership team.
At work the majority of people censor how they look, their behaviour, body language, mannerisms, what they say, do and how they communicate.
When you hide the real you. Pretend you are someone you are not. Suppress and censor your natural behaviours and have an array of filters you pass every thought through before you speak. It is exhausting.
No wonder the UK and USA face a significant mental health challenge at work. The Thriving At Work Report, 2017 states
“There is a large annual cost to employers of between £33 billion and £42 billion, with over half of the cost coming from presenteeism, with additional costs coming from sickness absence and staff turnover.”
And the issue is only getting worse.
Organisations with low levels of psychological safety can expect to see a wide range of issues, from physical, mental and emotional health being impacted, to poor performance, a rise in grievances, conflicts and liability risks.
You will see increased absenteeism, problems not being reported, corners being cut. There is a greater risk of accidents, incidents and injuries. Any wrong doing, unethical or illegal behaviour often remains unchallenged and tragic failures occur.
There are missed opportunities for innovation, a loss of productivity and an increase in costs, which naturally impacts on turnover.
All of this could have been avoided if the workplace had a psychological safe environment; if employees felt safe and supported to be their Authentic Self in the workplace.
Why LGBT+ Employees Are Unable To Bring Their Whole Selves To Work
In 2013 Deloitte published Uncovering Talent: A New Model of Inclusion. In it they discussed the concept of ‘covering’. They stated that the majority of employees cover up some part of who they are whilst at work; they wear masks and censor themselves.
61% of respondents reported covering at least one aspect of themselves while at the office. For LGBT individuals it is 83%.
In 2018 Stonewall produced the LGBT In Britain: Work Report. They concluded that:
35% of LGBT staff have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT at work because they were afraid of discrimination.
In Deloitte’s 2019 State of Inclusion Survey:
56% of LGBT respondents said they had experienced bias in the workplace at least once a month.
It is clear there are many challenges LGBT employees face in the workplace.
Here is where they stem from.
- We live in a heteronormative world where we are taught heterosexual and cisgender is the norm. Anything outside of that is not accepted.
From a young age we experience social conditioning and we learn about what is right and wrong. As a result, we have developed filters (heterosexual and cisgender). Everything we see and experience in the world runs through these filters. Whether at home or at work. LGBT or otherwise.
Without knowing it, everyone in your organisation is making decisions, having conversations and engaging in their roles with these heterosexual and cisgender filters. This can be incredibly damaging for the LGBT individuals in your organisation.
- In the UK, Section 28 had a huge influence on the LGBT community. The law stated that local authorities should not ‘intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’. Introduced in 1987 and abolished in 2003, that meant for 16 years same-sex relationships were not discussed, promoted or taught in schools.
During this time LGB individuals grew up not having any LGB references or a safe space to explore their sexuality. On the flip side, non-LGB individuals were not educated or given the safe space to ask questions about LGB life.
The impact of this can be seen today, in the workplace and in society. Misunderstandings. Stereotyping. Judgements. Criticism. Hatred. Aggression. Frustration. Shame. Guilt. Abuse, bullying and harassment.
- In the mid-1980s there was an intense media focus on AIDS; a new disease that was terrifying and had no cure. It was known as the ‘gay disease’.
Section 28 and the media coverage of the Aids Epidemic created misunderstandings and a terrified nation. The impact of this was still felt nationwide when I was a teenager and is still felt by LGBT+ people of all ages today.
Section 28, the Aids Epidemic and living in a heteronormative world have resulted in LGBT+ people not feeling safe or comfortable to bring their whole self to work and life.
The 5 Pillars of Psychological Safety
Psychological safety in the workplace is crucial for your entire workforce, but certainly more so for your LGBT employees. As you have seen, they have more conditioning, layers and barriers to unpick than your non-LGBT employees.
If your workplace isn’t psychologically safe, your LGBT employees will not express their true selves, they are not likely to come out and as a result feel incredibly isolated.
As a queer woman who experienced a significant period of bullying in the workplace due to my sexuality, I could see very clearly that there are 5 key areas that organisations need to address to ensure everyone can bring their whole self into the workplace and feel safe to do so.
Conversations are happening more and more in workplaces about psychological safety but there wasn’t a blueprint for creating psychological safety in workplaces; a cohesive plan to take it from a concept to reality.
I created The 5 Pillars of Psychological Safety; the blueprint to ensure everyone feels safe and celebrated in the workplace.
Pillar 1: SELF. Bring your whole self to work.
SELF refers to you. Who you are. What influences your thoughts and behaviour. How you cope with life. How you show up in the workplace. How you communicate with people based on the stories you have created in your mind over the years.
The first pillar centres around my signature Authentic Self Process. The Authentic Self Process is a powerful 3 step system to release the masks you wear and the stories you have created about your past experiences and relationships – so you can bring ALL of who you are to work and life. The Authentic Self Process reconnects you to your Authentic Self.
Being your Authentic Self is to know who you really are and to express yourself fully in any given moment. To be your authentic self is to bring all of who you are to work and life. No hiding, no censoring and no pretending to be someone else.
By raising your awareness about your SELF, you will feel confident and empowered to bring all of who you are into the workplace. The Authentic Self Process is the foundational building block for the 5 Pillars of Psychological Safety.
Pillar 2: SOCIAL. Build social capital in the workplace.
Social capital: the interpersonal relationships we have within groups that share common understandings, values, and identity, to name a few.
SOCIAL takes you through what is going on behind the scenes of your interactions with others, what influences how you respond and react in conversations and how to use this knowledge to strengthen your interactions and connection with other people.
Pillar 3: COLLABORATION. Cultivate powerful, successful collaboration.
In COLLABORATION you explore the environment, the culture of the organisation and how to empower and enable effective collaboration in teams. You explore how to create safe spaces and ground rules, how to draw up effective conflict resolution plans, the 4 steps to effective communication and the foundations for exceptional team working – all of which are integral to powerful COLLABORATION.
Pillar 4: CURIOSITY. Experiment and question to innovate.
In CURIOSITY you delve into how to create a culture of experimentation, contribution and reflective questioning. You learn to healthily question your beliefs, what you do and how you do it – both individually and in your organisation as a whole. Mistakes are made and the lessons are learned from those. Constructive and active feedback is sought and received and there is a willingness to learn, both professionally and personally. This is not only actively encouraged but positively practised – creating a culture of innovation.
Pillar 5: CREATIVITY. Generate solutions to transcend boundaries.
EVERYONE is born with innate creativity. But over the years you have been told to “keep your ideas to yourself” and to “not make a fuss.” Hearing these messages you suppress your creativity and don’t speak up. In CREATIVITY you explore how to create a culture where new ideas and alternative perspectives are welcomed. One where everyone has a voice and all ideas are valued, considered and discussed openly.
The 5 Pillars of Psychological Safety and the Authentic Self Process are principles and teachings that are applicable to workplaces and their people around the globe. These 5 Pillars are the foundations and building blocks being used around the world to create fully inclusive workplaces.
In essence, they cultivate an environment where people thrive.
You can read more about The 5 Pillars of Psychological Safety here:
Psychological Safety Training
Gina delivers psychological safety training for multinational corporations and Fortune 500s, in the US, Europe and UK and is currently working on her second book – The 5 Pillars of Psychological Safety.
Training Options Available:
About Gina Battye
Gina Battye is a world-renowned Authenticity, Psychological Safety and LGBT+ Inclusion Consultant and Trainer for Multinational Corporations, Fortune 500s, TV, Film and the Global Press.
As a media friendly experienced expert, with an acting background, Gina’s work has been featured widely in the media, including:
Sky News, BBC Radio, Forbes, Psychologies, Cosmopolitan.
To find out more about working with Gina on LGBT inclusion in your organisation, click here: https://www.ginabattye.com/ginas-courses
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