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Strategies for embedding psychological safety in the workplace

In this blog, Lawrence Walsh, Managing Director at 'There Be Giants,' looks at the factors and initiatives that contribute to psychological safety and wellbeing at work.

10th Jul 2024

5 minutes

As we approach International Safe Places To Work Day on 27th July, it’s a poignant moment to reflect on the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. A safe place to work is one where people feel able to be themselves without fear or frustration. A safe place to work has an open, trusting culture where colleagues can speak up and express their ideas without fear of criticism, judgement, or repercussion. A safe place to work is one where colleagues feel happy, included, and supported to perform to the best of their ability.  

In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environments, prioritising mental wellbeing is paramount. Over recent years, conversations about mental health and wellbeing have become more open and frequent. Organisations understand how critical personal wellbeing is to producing strong performance.

There Be Giants are experienced in helping organisations to create psychologically safe workplaces through redefining the employee experience. We sat down with Lawrence Walsh, Managing Director, to delve into the factors and initiatives that contribute to safety and wellbeing at work. 

1. From your experience what defines psychological safety in the workplace, and why is it important?

In simple terms, psychological safety means colleagues feel able to bring their whole self to work. It’s the difference between waking up and looking forward to going to work and anticipating your work with fear and worry. 

Psychological safety has a huge impact on employee performance, personal productivity, and therefore business growth. When employees feel able to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions without fear of being judged, the business they work for tends to achieve greater success. 

2. What specific programmes or initiatives have you come across that prioritise mental wellbeing for employees?

The most common initiatives include flexible working arrangements, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) and enhanced annual leave. Flexible working policies allow employees to work remotely for all or part of their working week, helping to improve work-life balance and reducing stress. 

EAPs are resources to support employees when they most need it. Organisations can choose the type of support available to align with employee needs. Support may include counselling, legal advice, and financial planning assistance.

Operating an enhanced annual leave policy means employees don’t feel stressed or panicked about having limited holiday entitlement. Providing enhanced annual leave entitlement means giving employees extra holidays on top of their statutory allocation and offers flexibility to take the time off they need to maintain positive mental health.

3. Can you share examples of policies your company has implemented to support mental health and create a culture of openness and trust?

At There Be Giants we practice what we preach, encouraging openness and honesty and providing a safe space for employees to talk. We operate an ‘open door’ policy, our team knows that they can raise any concerns with leadership without fear or judgement. 

We’re a remote first, flexible employer, we trust our employees and have a supportive and collaborative relationship. If an employee requests time off, we don’t ask why or make judgements.

Regular 121s with employees don’t just focus on performance, but are a general check-in on how they’re feeling, any support they need, challenges they’re facing.

We have each other's back and support one another – we work together as a team 

4.  How can companies ensure that managers and leaders are equipped to support their team’s mental health needs?

The first step is to provide clear policies around mental health and wellbeing and educate line managers around what these mean in practice. It’s vital that managers are aware of available leave options, flexible working arrangements and other support services to adequately support their team. Line managers should be leading by example and taking advantage of these options too. 

Create mental health resources and offer training to increase awareness of support such as EAPs, counselling and wellness programmes. Easy-access pdf guides are really simple to create and share with colleagues. 

Use regular manager/team check-ins to discuss not only work-related issues but also overall wellbeing. Acknowledge and reward line managers who actively support their team's mental wellbeing to encourage these behaviours. This will help to create an open, nurturing, supportive culture where every employee feels safe to work.  

5.What role can employee resource groups (ERGs) or support networks play in promoting psychological safety within an organisation? 

ERGs help to build supportive communities within an organisation. They are commonly used to share experiences, champion minority voices and raise awareness of equality, diversity and inclusion issues. As supportive, inclusive, safe spaces to speak up, ERGs increase psychological safety by creating a shared sense of belonging and wellbeing. They may also help leaders by highlighting issues which are affecting their psychological safety at work. 

6.How should companies measure the effectiveness of mental health initiatives and assess employee wellbeing?

It’s so important that senior leaders understand current employee sentiment. Regular employee pulse or engagement surveys can provide valuable insight into how colleagues are feeling. Where there is a lack of psychological safety, anonymous surveys can be helpful in identifying the steps leaders need to take to create a safer work environment.  

Having listened to your employees, involving them in the planning and evaluation of new and existing mental health initiatives can further help to build psychological safety. This leads to more regular open conversations between teams and their managers, which are equally important. These discussions should not only be reserved for annual performance reviews. 

7. In what ways do you encourage open communication and de-stigmatise discussions around mental health in the workplace?

We encourage all our leaders and our clients’ leaders to role model the behaviours they want to promote. When employees see leaders at all levels having open conversations, regular check-ins, and taking advantage of compassionate leave and flexible working arrangements, it creates a sense of ‘I can do that too’. Normalising caring for your own mental health builds a culture of safety and belonging.

8. What advice would you give to other companies looking to enhance psychological safety and prioritise mental well-being in their organisations?

Leaders have a key role to play in creating a psychologically safe work environment and a company culture to match. We cannot stress enough the importance of leading from the top. If you’re looking to build psychological safety in your organisation, creating a shared set of values can emphasise the behaviours you expect. Even better, involve your employees in selecting the values that are important to them - the perfect example of an open, listening culture.   

About There Be Giants

There Be Giants is an employee experience consultancy specialising in creating high-performing teams, which results in better productivity and business outcomes. They focus on building a culture of continuous improvement, working closely with businesses to drive growth and success. For more information, visit There Be Giants.