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Mental Health and Psychological Safety
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Does your organisation consider mental health and psychological safety a thing? (Part 1)

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Preamble: I decided to write this article to equip myself better to combat the underlying threat to experiencing a great life and the workplace positively. For me, awareness and change must start with research. Reading the papers that I am sharing in this article has reinforced the importance of putting in action plans and strategies to resolve mental health and psychological safety to enable positive relationships, connections and a sense of participation in a team.

Does your organisation consider mental health and psychological safety a thing?

A healthy job is likely to be one where the pressures on employees are appropriate in relation to their abilities and resources, to the amount of control they have over their work, and to the support they receive from people who matter to them. Personally, my basis is that we all aspire to obtain a situation where we find the perfect mix of these somewhat balancing trade-offs. Therein lies the challenge of this topic. What is within your control, and what are the external pressures that are applied based on employment?

Psychological safety – a belief that a team is safe for risk-taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. It is considered to be a crucial ingredient of team performance. It was identified as the most critical factor in high performing teams by Google’s ‘Project Aristotle’ research, underpinning all other aspects. It is also a concept closely interwoven with resilience and wellbeing, laying the grounds for trusting, supportive relationships amongst colleagues.

How important is happiness and wellbeing in your workplace?

What does the constant threat of organisational change mean to psychological safety?

How much does psychological wellbeing contribute to performance?

PWC authored a return on investment report for health and wellbeing investment within an organisation. For every dollar invested in health and wellbeing, there is a $2.30 return. Those financial stats are not to describe that the reason to invest in change is to obtain a fiscal return. It is to show that there are significant challenges across companies relating to employee performance that directly links to the state and wellbeing of people contributing to presenteeism (low output, lack of motivation) and absenteeism. Again, that should not be a catalyst for change, but it shows that it is not only the right thing to do but to do so will lift the performance of your organisation. PwC ROI Report

Wellbeing Graph

How important is happiness and wellbeing in your workplace?

The topic of mental health and psychological safety is becoming far easier conversations, but it is a challenging topic to discuss out in the open. Whilst there is a duty of care for all organisations to ensure appropriate strategies are in place to address this in the workplace, it can be a challenge for leaders to approach these topics. We need to ensure leaders have dedicated action plans in place; the subject is considerably more on people's minds than it has been in the past. We are creating connections with the importance of ‘work’ vs the ‘experience’ of being at work. The key to success is the importance for employees to understand that there is a range of support that can be provided. The responsibility to raise the importance in your workplace sits with everyone.

Like anything in life, the only way to understand how to progress and develop a strategy is to ensure you have learning feedback and the ability to pulse check your team/peers/employees. Without this, you are guessing and hoping for the best (maybe your guess might still work though 😀 ). What actions can you put in place that will facilitate this, could an anonymous survey help? a dedicated role in place? a specialised organisation that will do this work for you. The point is, it is vital to do something effective in obtaining the feedback. It can be a difficult topic to want to discuss openly, but the actions of seeking the information are vital in itself.

I would hope to think that we can all assume that most leaders want to ensure that all of the employees in their business are secure and have positive health and wellbeing. Maybe there isn’t a one size fits all.

Wellbeing or psychological safety isn’t something that you can demand as a leader; it is a trust driven exercise. Each team will need a variation in their approach, but if anything COVID has taught us, there are certain situations that we all need to pull together to solve a common cause or resolution.

Here are some areas that can assist with starting the process. Not just surface wellbeing, like a good coffee machine, fruit bowl, or a thank you wall 🙂

  1. Increase understanding that mental health and psychological safety is an important topic to cover and must have a plan in place to allow people to speak up.

  2. Leaders need to feel confident in doing that by increasing awareness in what it looks like.

  3. Whilst not given as much importance for people, cover the basics; sleep, water, physical health, personal time management.

  4. A systemic change needs to look at how an organisation works in helping employees foster wellbeing.

In my research to learn more about this topic, in attempting to identify and understand stress or employee factors, I found the world health organisation article on stress at work. This is personally not a research location I would have customarily hunted down in the past but found it useful with their scientific basis and additional links they provide.

Happy workers

What does the constant threat of organisational change mean to psychological safety?

The world health organisation report describes the working state as: “a healthy working environment is one in which there is not only an absence of harmful conditions but an abundance of health-promoting ones.”

For organisations, particularly large enterprises, leadership changes always invoke the threat of redundancies and departmental adjustment with the hope to better optimise service delivery. These changes can be a positive thing; the toxicity to teams and individuals starts when those leadership changes are frequent. This creates a constant state of flux and insecurity. The snowball begins to increase in size when the frequency of these changes mean that hallway conversations soon become degraded to the point that negativity reigns. This negativity then becomes the culture, and very soon, it is hard to have a conversation that enables positivity in the workplace, the new 'normal' increases stress-related issues for individuals. What does it do for confidence and psychological safety? It destroys it.

The reason the challenge exists is quite simple for organisations that allow constant organisational change. Constant organisational change creates a high presence of interpersonal or cross-team conflict across the organisation which therefore shifts focus from productive output over to role or team protection.

At some stage, a company needs to recognise that the health of people is a corporate business criterion. Stop the focus on constant large departmental/company restructure simply due to new leaders being placed into position. Empower leaders to develop clearly defined roles that focus on an individual and how they can be successful, irrespective of the changes across the organisation. These measures will hopefully decrease absenteeism or presenteeism when change across the organisation is occurring.

At some stage, a company needs to recognise that the health of people is a corporate business criterion. Stop the focus on constant large departmental/company restructure simply due to new leaders being placed into position. Empower leaders to develop clearly defined roles that focus on an individual that will decrease absenteeism or presenteeism.

End of Part 1:

This is the first installment to the blog considering if your organisation considers mental health and psychological safety a thing. In the next installment, I would like to explore the resulting performance impacts and expected improvement area and when/where to start to make changes.

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About the author:

With a passion to see agile teams and software delivery successful, David has the ability to deep dive on project details and manages deliverables to commercial outcomes. He’s been delivering successful projects for startup to enterprise over the last decade. Sharing the best of agile software development techniques to take project roadmaps to project delivery. David makes sure you obtain the outcome you are seeking.

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Website: www.zyrous.com

David Daff