Psychological safety – the shared feeling that it is safe to show one’s true self and to take risks in a group – is considered to be a crucial ingredient of team performance. It was even identified as the most important factor in high performing teams by Google’s ‘Project Aristotle’ research, underpinning all other factors. It is also a concept closely interwoven with resilience and wellbeing, laying the grounds for trusting, supportive relationships amongst colleagues.
One area less often focused on is the importance of psychological safety for employees to feel comfortable in raising mental health concerns at work.
The decision of whether or not to reveal a personal mental health issue in the workplace is not an easy one. Whilst some may decide against it based on factors stemming from their own personality, beliefs or preferences, those who do want to share should not have to feel like their choice is risky. To allow this, employers need to foster cultures in which individuals feel supported to talk about mental health openly, without fear of judgement or other negative consequences—in other words, psychologically safe cultures.
Whilst widely talked about, psychological safety does not yet seem to be common in practice. Recent research identified that over 50% of employees in global organisations have felt psychologically unsafe at work. Below are some key considerations for managers who want to increase the overall psychological safety in their team(s):
- Demonstrate trust in team members – for example, giving people more autonomy in their roles.
- Own your mistakes, and encourage team members to do the same. Focus not on blame – no one deserves to be embarrassed or punished – but turn them into learning experiences that the whole group can benefit from.
- Promote honest, open feedback in all directions (including positive feedback).
- Support team members in trying new approaches, even if it feels risky. Knowing that they have your support will enable individuals to embrace their creativity and bring innovation to their work.
- Be open to all opinions, responding to ideas and suggestions in a way that shows employees that they are valued and respected. Responding negatively or dismissively can lead a person to feel that they are seen as incompetent, problematic or unaccepted.
As well as fostering a safe culture, it is also crucial to equip team members with a strong understanding of mental health issues and their impacts, through relevant training. This way, everyone will have the knowledge to be able to respond appropriately and have helpful discussions with colleagues.
This combination of psychological safety and well-informed team members should provide the best possible environment for employees to feel comfortable talking about mental health.
Find out about our wellbeing and resilience workshops here.