Company Culture’s Impact on Employee Mental Health
The need for innovation and creativity is not going away now that businesses and workplaces are opening up again. Business leaders need to consider how they can continue encouraging these traits as they navigate to a new normal. One way to accomplish this is by ensuring your business is a psychologically safe space where employees can feel free to be themselves, be right or wrong, and present out-of-the-box ideas without feeling threatened or diminished.
A psychologically safe workplace nurtures this type of environment. As defined by Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, psychological safety is the shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It is an environment in which:
- Everyone feels safe participating.
- Questions are perceived neutrally, not as “smart” or “stupid.”
- Mistakes are treated as learning experiences, not a sign of incompetence.
In other words, psychological safety is embodied in a company culture in which company leaders respect their employees in the same way they want to be respected.
In some ways, the virtual environment we have been living in primed us for this by giving managers and team members a glimpse into each other’s lives in ways they could not imagine before the pandemic. The blend of work life and home life made meetings more personal, from the color of paint on the walls to the cat walking over the keyboard. We learned to understand some of the challenges team members were facing while working from home. This understanding can be the basis for the trust and respect needed for psychological safety.
These three strategies can help firm leaders embrace this concept:
Remember that everyone’s voice is important. Keeping in mind that every member of the team has his or her own personality, perspective, skills and experiences, it is up to leaders to make sure everyone — introverts and extroverts alike — has the opportunity to participate. This can be accomplished by going around the virtual table and giving everyone a turn to speak or by the leader randomly calling on different people.
Expect to be treated the same way as any other team member. In a psychologically safe environment, it important for the leader to take criticism and suggestions gracefully. It is hard to feel vulnerable, but leaders need to be able to accept negative feedback as well as positive feedback. For example, suppose the manager wants to proceed immediately with a new vertical, but the team explains the reasons why it would be beneficial to wait six months. With this model, the manager must honestly take the group’s opinion into consideration. Then, after evaluating both opinions, the manager needs to thank the team for their input and tell them the key reasons for his or her decision.
Communicate. Communication is key to a psychologically safe culture. It is not a do-what-I-say culture. There is no room for intimidation or gossip.
While listening to others and respecting their opinions is important, company leaders are still the ultimate decision makers. The work world we are going back to is not the same as the one we left before the pandemic or the one we will see in the future. Still, showing respect for employees never is wrong.