It is imperative for businesses to provide people of color equal opportunity. Unfortunately, in my experiences as a Hispanic woman, the new hire orientations at our dream jobs might be deceiving. From the introductory PowerPoint presentations and welcoming committees, companies communicate their values, but what actually happens in the true culture of the company is hidden. Feeling physically and emotionally safe is important. However, as an employee, I have felt on multiple occasions that psychological safety was not even on an employer’s list of priorities. I offer this blog as a companion to our latest Forbes | Coaches Council Post about psychological safety to give you a better understanding of an employee’s point of view.
Psychological Safety? What is That?
The definition of psychological safety is the belief that, as a professional, you will not be judged or ostracized for communicating your creative concepts, concerns, or mistakes. Talking to your boss about anything can be a difficult thing to do, and it takes someone with a high risk-taking drive to voice any concerns or feedback just once. Engaging in practices that encourage a psychologically safe environment makes employees more comfortable with sharing their feedback and additional input on a regular basis. As easy as it sounds, having thriving psychological safety is extremely important yet a hard thing to maintain and preserve.
First, Psychological Safety is Impossible to Create.
Communication is key in any business venture; however, merely telling your employees that it’s okay to tell you about their workplace problems does not directly influence them to do so. Even in a comfortable work environment, speaking up about personal or professional concerns poses a social risk that could potentially make an employee seem like they have chosen to stir the pot or create drama.
This conflict disrupts the calm and ‘perfect’ workplace; however, a thought process like this keeps many employees from coming forward with issues. Leaders like this have unknowingly created a workplace with “false harmony.” From my own experience as a professional, I noticed several problems at work that needed to be addressed by management. However, I never brought them up. Here are a few situations why this might be happening in your business.
Second, Hospitable Workplaces Place Your Business at Risk.
Speaking under the pretense of false harmony, an overemphasis on kindness and hospitality could be dissuading and discouraging any developing accountability. With an employee’s desire to remain civil with their coworkers and/or supervisors, your work environment can operate within a bubble. Thus, you keep the striking reality of integral business or operating issues on the back burner. As you examine psychological safety as it pertains to your business, here are some scenarios to consider.
I have worked for managers who acted more like friends than supervisors. Being the bearer of bad news in that situation can be challenging to navigate as an employee. As much as you want your workplace to be a place where everything is peachy and no problems arise, most of the time, it is not. I worked for a company in which one of my managers was one of the nicest people I had ever met and the other believed they could do no wrong.
When a problem arose that needed to be addressed with them, I was mortified. I did not want to ruin my professional relationship with my bosses strictly because of this problem. In the end, I chose to keep the problem to myself. I was too scared to burst the bubble of a perfect and hospitable workplace for the sake of my own experience in said establishment. Between the projected reactions of both of my supervisors and my feeling that my issue would not be taken seriously, it ended up being the reason I left the company.
Who is Responsible for the Company’s Successes?
When your team celebrates a big win in your business, it is obviously a good thing. However, would you consider it a group or individual win? Sometimes, leaders can unknowingly undermine, fail to observe, or take credit for an employee’s hard work. Unfortunately, leaders like this are often quick to place blame on employees for failures in the company and seldom take ownership of setbacks, despite taking credit when projects are successful. When your company is psychologically safe, your team knows that you see their ideas and the hard work it took to transform their concept into reality. If your employees feel as though they cannot share ideas with you out of fear that their idea will become yours, they will no longer communicate with you and their performance within the company will falter.
It is not fun to hear that a supervisor or colleague you trust took credit for an idea you presented first. Manager or not, this is a fairly common occurrence that employees experience but is seldom communicated to leadership. I have grown to understand that in this situation, it is hard to stand up for yourself. In this situation, it is best to push past the uncomfortable nature of it and stand up for yourself. As scary as it can be to initiate confrontations, you need to communicate your observations and concerns with them. As an employee, offering your point of view on past events can only make the situation clearer for the other person. Sometimes, taking credit for something happens unintentionally; however, you will never know that person’s reasoning without that line of communication. Be available and ready for a civil and respectful conversation to reach a solution together.
How Body Language Affects Communication
As humans, we tend to put our emotions on display. When bad news is shared with us, our negative reactions are hard to set aside. Physical tells like sighing or rolling our eyes can shut down a line of communication instantly and significantly decrease your psychological safety at the same time. Your negative reactions can prevent an employee from coming to you with bad news that could be detrimental to the success of your business. These kinds of reactions are only capable of doing one thing: creating an unhealthy space between you and your employees. After working from home and working through the mask mandate, understand that your facial expressions and body language are now on full display to everyone back at the office. The emotional composure practices and general non-manual expressions you could make at home clearly convey your internal thoughts on any news, good or bad, thrown your way.
I had worked with a supervisor in a previous position who could communicate their emotional state through their gait and breathing alone. On any given day, they could walk into a shift, and no one would want to address any issues they may have out of fear of an emotional outburst. As an employee, it was like walking on eggshells. Employees were dissuaded from bringing up issues by their body language alone. Whereas others chose to communicate with our supervisor regardless, only to be berated by them during and gossiped about after the fact. Thankfully, the problem was addressed after a meeting with HR, but the lasting effects on our psychological safety remained.
Are You a Perfectionist or a Micromanager?
Good leadership wants their team to work, live, and breathe success, but at what cost? Perfectionist tendencies, if left unchecked, can resemble borderline micromanagement. Every business owner wants their company to thrive, but no one wants to be micromanaged. So, pursuing perfect performance might be setting your business back in the psychological safety department. Your team recognizes the importance of good quality products and services, but mistakes can happen. Although it might not happen immediately, your team is capable of finding these errors themselves. Helicopter management implies you have little to no trust that your employees can do their jobs without your constant guidance. Without a basis of trust and freedom to complete their work, psychological safety will not thrive.
As an employee, it is difficult to work with a micromanager. For your work to be nitpicked and questioned at every turn gets rid of any trust you have in your manager and may affect your own self-esteem. The only trust you can place in them is their ability to micromanage the work that you do. From personal experience, micromanagement is not conducive to a positive and psychologically safe environment. Employees at any given skill level worked hard to get where they are today. Whether that involves any number of degrees or certifications or physical work experience, we are hired to do our jobs and make your life as our supervisor easier. We work as a team to reach our collective goals. Give your employees a little bit of breathing room; they were hired to help you succeed and want to succeed just as much as you.
You want what is best for your team. Even in their shortcomings, a good leader knows there is always room to improve. Without psychological safety, problems can persist, leaving you no room to grow. The list of possible hindrances is long but leading your team warrants communication. Read and research. Consider these thoughts to preserve your psychological safety. With this crucial business element, leaders like you can accumulate employees’ advice, ideas, and criticisms to understand both your and their strengths and weaknesses.
Want more on psychological safety? Check out these other blogs!
Psychological Safety Boosts Inclusion by Wendy Fong (from our Forbes | Coaches Council page)
Support Your Employees Through Turbulent Times by Wendy Fong