After more than a year of working virtually, employers are making post-pandemic plans to return to the physical workplace. With COVID-19 vaccines now readily available, there’s another type of safety that organizations should focus on: psychological safety.
Creating a psychologically safe workplace, where employees feel comfortable expressing their genuine selves, is an important step employers can take to reduce the anxiety and stress of remote employees returning to an onsite or hybrid work model.
A survey by the American Psychological Association found that 49% of adults feel uneasy about returning to in-person interactions once the pandemic is over. Vaccination status wasn’t a factor — 48% of those who have already been vaccinated say they, too, feel uncomfortable with in-person interactions. More than half of Black, Asian and Hispanic Americans, and 47% of Whites, felt trepidation about adjusting to in-person interactions after the pandemic.
For many marginalized groups, working remotely has provided an escape from the bias and microaggressions of an onsite work environment. For others, working from home has provided a greater flexibility in managing job and family responsibilities.
To alleviate these worries and fears, organizations can create a psychologically safe environment where returning employees can openly and honestly discuss personal, home and professional issues with coworkers and managers without the fear of reprisal. To build the trust necessary to achieve this, organizational leaders and managers need to show greater empathy and support for employees who are stepping up and taking risks, contributing ideas, making suggestions, voicing a dissenting opinion and asking for help.
5 steps for managers to create a psychologically safe workplace:
1. Promote self-awareness
Share how you work best and like to communicate and encourage team members to do the same. Greater self-awareness of one’s own thoughts and behaviors is one of the keys to building psychological safety and addressing unconscious biases that we all have and need to manage with training and other tools.
2. Demonstrate concern for the human side of team members
The simple practice of regularly checking in with employees helps them feel more comfortable speaking up because they recognize you appreciate their whole selves and not just their work.
3. Show employees you understand them
Recap conversations using language like, “What I heard you say is ______. Is that correct?” This shows you care enough to understand and consider their point of view.
4. Include your team in decision making
Establish a culture that welcomes employees’ ideas and feedback. Doing so makes team members feel included in the decision-making process and leads to better outcomes. Even if employees don’t agree with a decision, they’ll appreciate the honesty and transparency behind how it was made.
5. Recognize each employee’s individual value
Acknowledge the individual contributions of employees in one-on-one, team and senior leadership meetings. This lets employees know that their perspectives and voice are not only heard, but also respected and valued.
Employees seek a post-pandemic work experience that is more inclusive, empathetic to their needs and respectful of their opinions. Through training and other measures, organizations can create a psychologically safe workplace and enjoy the many benefits that come from an environment in which people have a greater sense of belonging and feel comfortable speaking openly without fearing negative consequences.
Sign up for a free trial of our Psychological Safety at Work training: