As we confront the consequences of two global crises – COVID-19 and systemic racial injustice – physical safety catapults to the top of corporate risk agendas.
But physical safety is only a part of the equation. If our organizations are to emerge from these crises with enduring strength, psychological safety is just as crucial. Psychological safety enables employees to ask for help without fear of reproach, empowers employees to call out discrimination with the confidence that it will be addressed and overall, supports mental wellbeing.
The leaders of the teams that will outperform now, and in the months to come, are the leaders who promote psychological safety, an element essential to cultures of Belonging.
In our ongoing Belonging Project, Hedley May explores how the highest-performing leaders and entire organizations inspire psychological safety to form and “lift off” throughout teams. Our research and conversations with over 80 professionals reveal that it is the empathetic, the curious and the transparent leaders who can do this and who fill psychological safety bubbles with the air of trust.
We feel psychologically safe when we can be our authentic selves without fear of negative consequences. Our research shows this dynamic to be critical to a Belonging culture. Psychological safety allows us to share our individual freedom of thought and feeling. Successful leaders – whether leading through a crisis or not – hold themselves accountable for their part in their employees’ mental wellbeing and for emboldening their employees to bring their “true” and “complete” selves to work. Employees who feel safe to impart the difficult realities they face outside of the workplace are more likely to be tenacious and resilient.
Any quest for trust is derailed without a sense of honesty and openness across teams. Celebrating good news can nurture a team bond, but transparency on the bad news is equally important to cultivating genuine trust. Employees remember the leaders who are clear on difficult implications – for example, no lay-offs but no bonuses either – and who come armed with the reasons why. These leaders put the interests of their team ahead of external messaging, reinforcing their decisions with information and engagement.
Psychologically safe teams know that they can trust their leaders to communicate the truth – and these are the teams that last. Transparent messaging from leadership engenders confidence and motivates teams – inflating senses of trust and bubbles of psychological safety all-around. Crises or not, these teams are the ones who will soar above the competition.
Thank you for reading the introduction to our extended study on psychological safety, part of The Belonging Project. Stay with Hedley May as we continue our Belonging research and conversations in the market, diving deeper into how psychological safety rises through empathy, curiosity and transparency – and how each of these elements can be built up within teams.
We started our research into Belonging – the need to be accepted and included by those around you – back in January to support our clients in retaining their exceptional talent. The Belonging Project is grounded in cross-sector research and interviews on the critical roles of recruitment and onboarding in instilling a sense of Belonging.