Back to school. Back to work. Back to things changing too fast.
I don't know how you feel these days, but for me, there seems to be more change than I can handle. News of health problems - pandemics and epidemics - diseases thought to be extinct are back. Political unrest and conflict - conspiracy theories are spawning violence in Canadian cities. Global inflation and supply chain problems. The list seems to go on and on.
In this issue, we'll look at how you can help your colleagues cope with change and tragedy.
Director, Marketing and Communications
CCDI Consulting Inc.
Creating Psychological Safety at Work (Part 1)
Employees thrive best in work environments where they feel appreciated, supported, and connected to the organization’s mission, vision, and values. When there is a disconnect between the employee and the organization, it leads to reduced productivity and engagement, and a higher turnover rate. The key to improving the employee experience is creating a workplace environment that prioritizes psychological safety.
While transforming an organization’s culture can seem like a large and daunting task, there are a few things that can be done to improve psychological safety at the micro level. Here are 3 tips to help leaders improve psychological safety within their teams.
Get to know your team
While this sounds simple enough, getting to know your team members takes time and continuous effort. Showing genuine curiosity when asking them about their day, their interests, or how things are going for them will help them to feel more comfortable sharing information with you and will help to establish and build a dynamic based on mutual trust and respect. When employees trust their managers, they are more engaged in their work, and as a manager, when you know who you are working with, you will be better informed on how to support them.
Have two-way dialogue and provide multiple channels for communications
Reciprocity is invaluable, and when your team feels like they are heard, and that you are invested in their well-being and in their feedback, they will feel more comfortable speaking up. On the other hand, if they feel like they are being shut out or stone-walled, then eventually, they will become disengaged.
Creating opportunities for dialogue and providing multiple channels for communicating - whether it be team meetings, one-on-ones, coffee chats, emails, or other means – will allow your team to check in with you and to share their thoughts with you in whichever ways they are most comfortable.
This is especially important for creating a psychologically safe environment for your team because, inevitably, situations arise which may impact them in unforeseen ways. Perhaps, for example, if they received some bad news, are going through a difficult situation, or had an unexpected and stressful outcome of a project they were working on, their performance will be impacted. When there is an open line of communication, they will be more likely to communicate and advocate their needs to you.
The basis of psychological safety is self-awareness. As a leader, it is important for you to understand your leadership approach, and to tune into the needs and preferences of your team. When you recognize your own preferences and tendencies, you will uncover patterns – and perhaps even biases – that may impact your team members’ willingness to share their thoughts.
Start by taking a few minutes after checking in with your team members to take stock of the meeting. Were they excited? Disengaged? Did they shut down at any point? Were there any negative or concerning comments? Following this reflection, invite your members to reflect on the meeting as well, and to share their experiences and feedback with you.
If they see that you, as their team leader, are in tune with yourself and with the team, and are actively encouraging them to reflect on the work they are doing or the team’s dynamics, they will be more open to sharing their thoughts and advocating for their needs.
Why psychological safety matters in the workplace
The business case for psychological safety is simple: happier employees lead to increased revenue:
- Organizations are four times as likely to retain top performers
- Two times more likely to have employees achieve first-year performance goals,
- And two times more likely to hit revenue goals.
But beyond the business case, psychological safety improves workplace culture and has effects that will impact employees’ lives outside of the workplace. They will be more confident, creative, resilient, and solution-oriented – and these traits, and a better workplace environment and culture, will empower employees to play more active and critical roles in their team.
What To Do When the News Is Bad
A little more than a year ago, a Muslim family in London, Ontario, was killed while out for a walk after dinner. The community was left reeling by this hate crime. And organizations, both local and beyond, were left trying to figure out what to do or say to be helpful. Some organizations we work with got it right. Others realized they needed to re-evaluate their response and how it impacted their teams as they worked to ensure their employees felt supported and acknowledged.
In a perfect world, we would never have to turn on the news and see another report about a hate-based crime or walk into an office and see a colleague on the verge of tears because their mosque or synagogue has been targeted and defaced.
In a perfect world, we would not need to think about the implications of hate crimes on our communities. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that perfect world. Statistics Canada recently released data showing that religiously based hate crimes have increased by 67% over the last two years with much of it focused on the Jewish and Muslim.
When the unthinkable happens, how we react can communicate a lot – and sometimes what we are communicating isn’t reflective of our good intentions. Sometimes we are so worried about saying the wrong thing, or stepping into a space where we don’t belong, or making situations worse that we don’t say anything at all. Unfortunately, that response is rarely helpful. So how should we react when the news is bad?
Always start from a place of compassion
The first thing to remember is that compassion in these circumstances is our goal and it is an excellent place to begin. Our collective expectations for how organizations respond to external crises is evolving. If a local, regional, or national event has shaken our colleagues or our clients, set aside worries about what might be “right,” and begin with compassion.
Acknowledge the incident and its effect on the community internally first
The first response must be to acknowledge what has occurred and check in with our teams. While public responses are admirable, they could ring hollow unless your team knows through both words and actions that you care more about them than the appearance of a public statement.
Remind team leaders to check in with their team members
Give your leadership at all levels not only permission but the resources and support to connect with their team members. Remember that the impacts of a crisis can be ongoing. Empower leaders to offer compassionate and meaningful support to the team.
Offer information about available support.
Communicate to staff and their families the supports options available through your Employee Assistance Program if you have one or through the community. Consider whether there is a need for some internal counselling or support programs.
If there are local implications, or if your staff is feeling unsafe, review and communicate security information and expectations for workplaces
Consider what components of your business might need to be reviewed to ensure personal safety for all. Don’t do this work in a vacuum though. Remember to solicit feedback from affected groups to ensure any suggested amendments or additions are actually helpful. Be careful of your tone in the communications to ensure that comments are supportive and not construed as victim-blaming.
If you are considering issuing a public statement, think first about what value that statement will contribute to the conversation
Organizations can get themselves into trouble by issuing public statements especially if they don’t align with their corporate culture. A statement that feels inauthentic to your major stakeholders – your staff, your clients, your community – will do more harm than good to both the cause and your reputation. The voices which need to be centred belong to those who are most affected. Consider instead supporting and amplifying statements made by community leaders. If there is meaningful information for your customers or community that needs to be shared, acknowledge that in your statement as the reason for the communication.
Make a donation if you can
This one comes with one huge caveat. Do NOT turn this into a public relations event. The point is to offer support within your community and not to score points. A donation to a community group battling Islamophobia or antisemitism, for example, or directly to an affected organization can go a long way to helping the community rebuild, feel safe and continue its important work.
Remember we are all struggling
Incidences of violence are unsettling for us all even if we are not directly impacted. We may have friends, family or neighbours grieving. We may have children who are grappling with difficult questions. We may be wondering how to make meaningful personal contributions toward change. Workplaces which authentically acknowledge these realities, or better yet which can create space to connect with others around them are well on their way towards a compassionate response.
Keep the lines of communication open
If you miss the mark, or you have missed it after previous events, acknowledge that your goal is to do better and then share your plan. Remember that it is a positive thing to seek input from affected colleagues and communities but be mindful of placing additional demands on them in these situations.
In short, when dealing with tragic or traumatic news, start with compassion and keep the focus on those who are most affected. Make sure your leadership and communications team are on the same page and consider increasing your organization’s religious literacy in addition to other DEI areas so you are well-positioned to respond appropriately when the news is bad.
Brian Carwana is the Executive Director of Encounter World Religions, an organization dedicated to increasing religious literacy in our schools, organizations and communities. For more information about religious literacy in the workplace please visit worldreligions.ca where you will find free resources and information about religion.