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Many employers are starting to focus on psychological safety. However, one disconnect is the lack of involvement, engagement and follow-through to ensure the average employee knows what it is. There’s still too much implicit bias in mental health conversations that continues to fuel stigma and false narratives.

It’s important for the average employee to be clear that when an employer is talking about psychological safety, they’re not talking about mental illness per se.

Psychological safety is about creating a culture that’s welcoming and safe for all. At the core of psychological safety, as defined by the CSA Psychological Standard, is the primary goal in the workplace of reducing hazards such as bullies, which can create mental injuries, and to promote mental health by educating employees on the difference between mental health and mental illness.

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Awareness

One way to self-evaluate your awareness of psychological safety is to answer two questions:

  • Can you articulate the benefits for employers caring about psychological safety?
  • Are you clear on what your employer is doing to facilitate psychological safety?

One of the biggest challenges for employers is getting employees’ attention. Employers play an important role in educating employees on what they’re doing, but unless employees are actively asking questions, learning and participating, the employer’s efforts to have a positive impact are limited.

Accountability

For employers to have the maximum psychological safety impact, they need every employee in their organization engaged and involved. Employees can contribute by attending courses or programs and practising the skills discussed. When given an opportunity to get information or attend training, they should be accountable for this information and put an effort into learning and practising new skills.

When all employees are engaged and involved in learning about psychological safety, this can shape a culture to become a safe and non-judgmental space where employees feel comfortable asking for help.

Action

As the conversation around psychological safety evolves, organizational culture needs to continue clarifying the difference between mental illness and mental health. To get engaged in the psychological health conversation:

  • Become a student of psychological health – Start asking questions with respect to what your employer is doing to promote psychological safety. Observe all the tactics an employer can use to promote psychological safety, including policies, programs and how they select and train managers.
  • Become an amplifier – Consider getting involved in committees, participate in programs offered and sharing your learnings. The more employees talk and embrace psychological safety, the faster organizations will be able to have authentic conversations on this topic. Through such open conversations employers can select and improve their programs and policies. Creating a psychologically safe workplace requires a commitment to continuous improvement, as there’s no goal line.
  • Be a monitor – Provide honest and meaningful feedback on your employee experience. When you notice or experience things that are straining your psychological health and safety, such as the way work is being organized is creating excessive work demands, or you observe constant rudeness in team meetings, bring your observations to leadership for discussion and action. If you don’t feel safe doing this, it can be a sign that you’re not in a psychologically safe workplace. In this kind of situation, discuss your options with a trusted source. For employers to create a psychologically safe workplace, they must welcome and encourage employees’ continuous feedback. Employees should never feel like they have to wait for a survey to express what they feel and think.

The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: employeerecommended.com. This series of articles supports the award.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2019 at this link.

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Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.

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