10 tips for employers to improve psychological safety at work

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Princess Castleberry from Aclaimant talks about how easy it is for a workplace to affect psychological safety and gives tips for making workers feel more at ease.

Workers have a right to a reasonable level of safety at work, and it’s the employer’s job to give them that.

But health and safety at work are often thought of in terms of physical safety, especially when chemicals, heavy machinery, or hardware are used. Employers might even think about how to keep their workers’ minds healthy and make sure they aren’t overworked or burned out.

But employers also have a responsibility to make sure their employees are mentally safe at work. SiliconRepublic.com talked to Princess Castleberry, who is the interim head of people and wellness at Aclaimant, a company that makes software for risk management, to find out more.

“Psychological safety is a person’s belief or feeling that they can be real and honest about who they are, what they think, and what they do without worrying about how it will affect their status, career, or image at work,” she said.

“Psychological safety is mostly determined by things that a person can’t change, even though it is affected by how they think.”

This means that an employer can’t change the way an employee thinks, but they can affect it through company culture, wellness and HR policies, strategies for diversity and inclusion, and the emotional intelligence of their leaders.

These things can either help or hurt an employee’s sense of psychological safety. Even though each company is different, Castleberry listed 10 practical things an employer can do to help make the workplace feel more psychologically safe.

1. Spend money on health programs

“Organizations that are healthy and make money have employees who are healthy and happy,” she said. “Invest in high-quality programs and events and come up with a way to reward wellness and culture champions from within the company.”

2. Ask for feedback from workers.

Castleberry said it’s important to get feedback and ideas from employees, which can be done through regular one-on-one meetings, team huddles, and pulse surveys.

“Ask those who are usually quiet to say what they think. Be ready to take action and tell them how their voices affect management decisions.

3. Make policies for managing risks.

Castleberry is the main consultant at both Aclaimant and Castle Risk Management and HR Consulting. At Aclaimant, she helps make workflow solutions for managing safety and risk.

She said that it is very important to make and quickly enforce solid risk and HR policies to stop microaggressions, bullying, harassment, demeaning sarcasm, and retaliation. “These actions must be stopped right away and punished at every level, including the top.”

4. Check the EQ of leaders.

A lot of a company’s culture comes from the top, so a leader’s empathy and emotional intelligence can also make a big difference in how safe employees feel psychological.

Castleberry said, “Use trusted assessments to measure the emotional intelligence of leaders and encourage training and competency measures that improve self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.”

5. Ensure diverse representation

Diversity and inclusion have been important parts of a healthy company culture for a long time, but when you look at your teams, you can’t forget about equity.

“Look at how your teams are put together at all levels to see what voices and perspectives are missing or limited,” Castleberry said. “People feel safest with friends, so having a diverse group of representatives is important.”

6. Treat social issues equally.

Castleberry also said that leaders must be ready to handle any social crisis.

“Spending money or showing emotional support in public for one crisis and then being quiet about others can make some people feel left out and hurt their sense of belonging and psychological safety,” she said.

7. Use the design thinking process.

Another way to make a place psychologically safe is to make sure employees feel safe and free to talk about their ideas without fear of being judged. Castleberry suggests using design thinking in problem-solving and coming up with new ideas to make this possible.

8. Consider Accessibility

She also said that it’s important for employers to think about how employees with different abilities can use information and systems.

9. Make sure everything is clear.

Communication channels that are open and easy to understand are a big part of making people feel safe at work.

Castleberry said, “Clearly communicate strategic goals, avoid making someone else the scapegoat, and give ‘air cover’ when employees take risks, especially when they don’t get the results you want.”

10. Start a mentoring program.

To help employees feel psychologically safe, they also need the right training, guidance, and mentorship. Castleberry said that formal mentorship and sponsorship programs should be made and funded “to promote learning, growth, and allies.”

10 tips for employers to improve psychological safety at work
image: Princess Castleberry


Other things to think about

Castleberry also talked about how important technology can be in creating psychological safety, both in the office and away from it.

“Idea hubs and compliance platforms make it possible to share new ideas and ways to improve processes, as well as to report and escalate concerns, claims, and ethical violations anonymously. “These technologies get rid of barriers, fears, and open criticism, and they let employees see things from a different point of view,” she said.

“HR information systems make it possible for companies to collect and compile feedback from the beginning of an employee’s career until they leave. This can help managers spot trends that can be used to shape policies, programs, and decisions.”

Even though the workplace can have a big effect on a person’s mental and emotional health, it’s important to remember that problems can also come from outside of work.

At a time when companies are telling their employees to “bring their whole selves to work,” Castleberry said that the weight of their employees’ personal experiences could scare off many employers.

“I think there are different levels of personal and corporate responsibility for creating psychologically safe environments, and employees need to speak up if they want to be a part of the changes they want.”

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