Creating Psychological Safety in the Hybrid Workplace
In the modern hybrid workplace—with a focus on your employees’ mental health and well-being at the forefront—how can you create a level of “psychological safety” that enables people to succeed?
To address this, let’s first step back and define the idea of psychological safety in the workplace. This comes from the latest book from Dr. Ernest Gundling (co-founder of Aperian Global) and Dr. Cheryl Williams, Inclusive Leadership, Global Impact:
One way to define psychological safety is as a form of applied trust: “I trust that if I speak up, my voice will be welcomed and I will not be punished.” A sense of trust or psychological safety can become a vital tonic for a diverse team because it counteracts several forms of bias simultaneously, supporting the creation of a new set of linked mental habits.
We are more inclined to anticipate and “confirm” positive contributions by trusted members of our team, which widens the circle of “insiders,” discouraging negative character “attributions” and supporting more positive interpretations of performance results; “overconfidence” about faulty assumptions is also displaced by changing perceptions of team members.
The importance of psychological safety in the workplace is also critical for productivity and the bottom line. High levels of psychological trust, Gundling points out, was “the single most important variable correlated with team effectiveness,” per research from Google’s Project Aristotle.
So, in the pandemic-affected environment where the idea of hybrid working—a blend of in-person and virtual working—is quickly becoming the norm for global companies, how can organizations ensure that they’re still securing an environment of psychological safety for their employees?
Here are some steps that companies that have embraced the hybrid workforce model can take to ensure psychological safety:
Give equal “air time” for meeting participants—both with in-person and in virtual formats.
Making sure that all parties in a meeting have the opportunity to make their voices and thoughts heard is a fundamental building block of psychological safety. Managers should be sure to give all employees a chance to weigh in during team meetings in order to get a wide, comprehensive, and diverse set of ideas that can fuel innovation. Additionally, managers should avoid having team members “talk over” one another in meetings; try implementing a system of turn-taking in meetings and asking participants to raise their hand (or virtual icon) when they want to contribute.”
One more note: managers should also pay close attention to the dynamics of in-person versus online meetings; a personality might change in a virtual environment as compared to a face-to-face one. Some people might be more hesitant or uncomfortable speaking up in a Zoom meeting than an in-person one, for example (or vice versa).
Encourage team members to share incomplete ideas and personal vulnerabilities—and be sure to do the same.
This one applies equally to both in-person and virtual one-on-ones and meetings. The most successful workplaces operate from a space of psychological safety where employees of all levels can throw out vague ideas and thoughts for debate and construction and voice all of their personal vulnerabilities and concerns in an open forum. No matter what the medium is—a large all-hands employee meeting in-person or on Zoom, on an email chain or project messaging software, or even a one-on-one project check-in or weekly get-together, managers should encourage employees to bring up and advocate for ideas (no matter what stage they are in) and speak honestly about issues that might affect them or the organization as a whole. More importantly, managers should strive to do the same. Model those behaviors for the rest of the team to follow. Share any ideas that you might find semi-formed or incomplete, and be an open book for sharing personal vulnerabilities and concerns with the rest of the team.
Take advantage of in-office, in-person meetings.
Communication over virtual means is great and is a wonderful way for employees to stay connected and safe over great distances. However, in-person meetings still provide a degree of intimacy and insight for both managers and employees that get-togethers over Zoom, Slack, or other messaging devices just cannot do. Therefore, it’s integral to take advantage of that time together in the office. Try as best you can to align your schedule with other team members, if possible, and be sure to schedule as many important meetings for the times when everyone is in the office.
Provide employees opportunities and tools for insight.
A greater understanding of the people you interact with in the office—everyone from colleagues and managers to clients and customers—is another foundational part of creating an office driven by the principles of psychological safety. By arming your teams with tools like the GlobeSmart Profile (allowing people to discover their preferred work style and see how they compare to other cultures, colleagues, and team members) and the Inclusive Behaviors Inventory (an easy-to-use assessment that allows team members to develop their inclusion profile and get simple steps for improvement, and one that specifically measures psychological safety), organizations can enable and encourage a workplace culture that makes psychological safety a priority, not just a phrase.