When employees feel cared for, considered, and safe, there are no limits to what they can achieve for the bottom line.
By Zee Johnson
HR leaders have spent the last few years discussing, strategizing, and implementing health and wellness initiatives to ensure their employees are supported at all times. Creating a work culture that is psychologically safe allows employees to feel comfortable being vulnerable, a prerequisite to honest communication, trust, and transparency.
Maggie Smith, senior vice president of human resources at Traliant, says it does even more, like reduces stigma and fear around mental health and increases understanding. She says that individuals who feel safe at work also feel encouraged to:
- speak up;
- express opinions and ideas;
- make and admit mistakes;
- ask for help; and
- take interpersonal risks without being criticized, punished, or have it held against them.
But such a positive and prosperous environment doesn’t just happen—it takes a long-term commitment to build, and managers play a significant role in making this happen. Smith says that the companies that really want to make a difference will start by asking and answering several questions. These types of questions include the folllowing.
- How often do managers initiate communication with their team members?
- Do managers and senior leaders share their own mistakes and challenges so that employees feel safe talking about theirs?
- Does the work environment encourage employees to suggest new ways to solve problems?
Thinking long and hard about the type of culture that will be curated before any procedures are introduced is crucial and getting decision-makers on board will be another pillar in the process. “It starts with the kind of culture you want to create and getting your CEO and senior leadership’s commitment to support it through inclusive policies and programs that address the whole person and all the dimensions of health and wellness,” Smith says.
And there are effective and cost-efficient ways to make this happen, most namely, through flexibility. “Offering flexible hours allows employees to take care of responsibilities outside of work and still be productive and successful,” she says. “Flexibility is also important in creating health and wellness benefits, trainings, activities, and resources.”
She also notes the importance of getting employees involved to make programs authentic. Leaders should ask their workforces what health and wellness topics and benefits are most important to them, then use their feedback to create the programs they really want. Surveys, employee resource groups (ERGs), town hall meetings, suggestion boxes, and group discussions are all great ways to obtain this information.
With stress and burnout at an all-time high, it would behoove organizations to make their workplaces as comfortable and welcoming as possible. If they don’t, they’ll find themselves in a challenging position. “Companies that don’t recognize and adapt to employees’ changing priorities, including their mental health, family/personal life, and work-life integration, can miss out or lose the best talent,” Smith says.
In the end, the results of a psychologically safe environment are numerous. “As part of a holistic approach to creating a positive, inclusive work culture, health and well-being initiatives that are tailored to the needs of your employees and organization build resilience, strengthen connections, and foster psychological safety that can improve recruiting and retention, and boost engagement, productivity and the bottom line,” Smith says.