Whether you’re hybrid, remote or in the office, the majority of people are spending the majority of their time working. So why not make the work environment a good place to be? The pandemic brought mental health to the top of the agenda for employers, and thankfully it has stayed there.
Besides the detrimental impact for the individual, poor mental well-being of employees plays a significant factor in absenteeism. In fact, the UK lost 17 million working days due to stress, depression or anxiety between 2021 and 2022 (Health and Safety Executive, 2022). Poor mental well-being of employees has also been linked to poor overall job performance, low productivity and increased staff attrition. A lack of psychological safety in the workplace has been found to be a key predictor of poor employee mental well-being. Here we unpack how mental well-being can be negatively affected by a psychologically unsafe work environment, and how you can identify potential hazards for your colleagues.
Before we get started, here are two basic definitions we need to understand:
Mental well-being = Mental well-being is a combination of how we feel (our emotions and life satisfaction) and how we function (relationships with others, personal control, purpose in life and independence). It is something that affects everyone, old and young, and anyone can experience good or poor mental well-being (World Health Organisation, 2021).
Psychological safety = Psychological safety is the belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes (Harvard Business Review, 2022).
DOUBT AND SELF-CONFIDENCE
Work is a vulnerable place to be. There are expectations, and as a worker you are expected to consistently perform and your value add is measured. In a positive environment that means you’re treated as an asset to the team, your input and output are valued. Without that psychological safety, this vulnerability can result in experiencing shame at the hand of a manager or colleagues; for example an unjust criticism of performance, undermining and blaming, can damage an employee’s self-esteem, engendering feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt.
A place to start: Before delivering feedback, make sure it is evidence based and delivered in a constructive way. Deliver it at an appropriate time and place (i.e. confidentially) and give the colleague an opportunity to respond and ask questions.
Toxic work environments are highly stressful for employees. Navigating a negative environment and operating in a state of self-preservation can be exhausting, which has a knock effect physically and contribute substantially to burnout.
A place to start: As a manager or leader, you can mitigate risk of exhaustion and burnout at work by giving clear expectations, offering genuine support and fostering an environment where individuals can speak up about their challenges without fear of retribution.
LONELINESS AND EXCLUSION
Pre-covid, loneliness was already on the rise, but with hybrid here to stay our efforts to create psychological safe environments must be able to extend into the digital realm. Hybrid and remote workers are more likely to experience loneliness so finding ways to integrate these virtual workers and make them feel connected to the team and organisation
An emotionally unsupportive workplace can lead to feelings of loneliness and exclusion. A pro-longed feeling of loneliness can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and increased stress.
A place to start: Be intentional in your hybrid meetings, set aside time for non-work related chat and ensure if some people are in a room together, they proactively engage with virtual participants and are looking into the camera. Also, consider third-location meetings and create opportunities for people to meet outside of the office and their home.
There is a huge variety of external influences which may impact how an individual acts at work, and without a psychologically safe environment to understand them and make reasonable adjustments employees will be unable to reach their potential. An example is unhealthy family dynamics which can unconsciously be re-created in the workplace and can become a direct mirror of trauma an employee experienced growing up. Even if the circumstances are not as unsafe as those in their past, it can still lead to employees experiencing a recreation of a neglectful or critical parent or authority figure. This might mean an individual may feel reluctant to stand up to a manager who is controlling and dismissive, as this may recreate feelings from childhood when a parent had no time or attention for them.
A place to start: This can be incredibly complex, but as a leader/manager/advocate you can create safe spaces for individuals to talk and really be heard. You might consider encouraging members of your team to qualify as mental health first aiders. Finally, be ready to sign post people to where they can get further help.
By building a psychologically safe environment within your business, you can significantly improve your employees’ mental well-being, resulting in reduced absenteeism and increased overall job performance, productivity and staff retention. If you are interested in understanding how to improve the conditions for good mental well-being of your team, please don’t hesitate to contact [email protected]