Redefining workplace safety

October 8, 2021

October 10 is World Mental Health Day

The pandemic has brought many changes to workplaces, both positive and negative, but one encouraging shift is a new focus on psychological safety at work. Many aspects of life during the pandemic have brought attention to the fact that our work lives can greatly impact our mental health, and vice versa – our mental health can greatly impact our work lives. Leaders and organizations need to provide more than just physical safety for their employees, but psychological safety as well.  

“At its most basic, psychological safety exists when there are no negative consequences for expressing oneself through being creative, making a mistake or raising a concern in the workplace,” says Jodie Voth, program services coordinator with Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). “In psychologically safe workplaces, everyone feels accepted, respected and safe to experiment, learn and challenge the way things are done.”

Focusing on the mental and emotional health of a team is just as essential as physical safety, and there are benefits for everyone.

“Teams and individuals perform better in a psychologically safe workplace. You’ll see higher productivity, engagement and effectiveness,” says Voth. “In settings where crisis and trauma are a natural part of the work, teams and individuals are less likely to experience negative effects, and more likely and faster to recover when they do.”

As we emerge from the pandemic and begin to create the new normal, addressing the psychological safety of employees should be at the centre of a company’s recovery plans now and into the future.

Creating a psychologically safe workplace can be fairly straightforward. There are many actions leaders can take to support staff, such as using a collaborative management style, cultivating cohesive teams and clearly communicating things like roles and expectations. Creating or providing access to resources that can help support employees’ mental health –particularly for stressors that are inherent to a particular job or field – can be hugely beneficial.

Also, it’s important for the leaders themselves to be psychologically informed, meaning they are compassionate leaders who are aware of the relationship between the workplace, productivity and mental health. Compassionate leaders understand and uphold good boundaries with their staff and know how to speak to or respond to staff who may come to them with personal or emotional issues.

Probably the most common concern I hear from leaders is, ‘I don’t know how to talk to my staff about…’ When talking to an employee about a sensitive matter, it’s important to be compassionate and direct. Don’t beat around the bush. Instead, use simple language and be specific about the issue while communicating kindness and concern, and respecting the person’s privacy,” says Voth. “Using validating statements, such as ‘I can understand that this is difficult for you’ can go a long way toward communicating empathy.”

If you have a concern about an individual or the workplace, it’s also important to reach out for support, urges Voth. “Many leaders aren’t trained to be counsellors, and often concerns related to psychological safety in the workplace call on this skillset.”

Your company’s human resource department can be a great place to start. Leaders can also access a variety of services through their EAP plan with Manitoba Blue Cross, such as a one-one-one leader consultation services, including a same-day support line, individual counselling, resilience groups, critical incident stress debriefings and other trauma response services.

To access Manitoba Blue Cross's counselling services, click here or call 204.786.8880 (within Winnipeg) or 1.800.590.5553 (toll free).

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