The missing link in workplace safety programs—or am I barking up the wrong tree?
With a picture like this, who can help but feel loved and adorable with these two dogs looking after our safety? But the bottom line is that our physical safety is deeply linked to a sense of psychological safety. How we run our businesses, manage our staffs and implement change processes contributes greatly to increased risks in psychological safety. Risks that can lead to absenteeism, illness, distractions and lack of focus that lead to physical injuries.
So why is it that companies put so much into physical safety without taking a look at psychological safety—how we behave with each other?
Why does Psychological Safety matter?
Here are some startling facts:
- One global business in the energy sector reported that 80% of its physical safety incidents are connected to psychological issues.
- Another Canadian based energy company noted that 50% of its long-term disability claims are rooted in mental health issues.
- A Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence found 40% of the workforce on some form of psychotropic medication for either anxiety or depression, both of which contribute to workplace aggression.
Feeling Safe or Unsafe?
What is psychological safety? It is typically applied team settings and a sense of safety for interpersonal risk taking…to be creative, productive and innovative.
It’s the ability to show and be one’s self without fear of negative consequences…where team members feel accepted and respected.
Are we dialing in for Failure or Success? How we sabotage those around us . . .
Okay, a no-brainer right? Yet, how many times have you felt shut down, demeaned, belittled?
Dealt with by interruptions, sarcasm, put-downs, outbursts, yelling, ridicule, public humiliation, blaming and shaming? The list goes on: actions not matching words, unclear or unknown expectations, breaking promises without mending the break, endless rules and regulations.
So why is this important? Let me share a story: for many years, I served as a disability and accommodation consultant to a power and water company, facilitating their reasonable accommodation program. One particular team of 12 employees repeatedly showed up at my mediation table with one injury after another. Something’s not right and leadership knew something had to be done because the injuries were costing them plenty. After delving into the situation through interviews and focus groups, it was uncovered that the supervisor of the team was the hallmark of a micromanager, bottle-necking information coming in or going out. Lots of concerns being expressed with no relief—supervision was delivered with arrogance, demeaning tones, public put-downs, and dismissive attitudes to their concerns.
The employees felt stuck, tied up in emotional distress, violated in their personal and physical space in getting their needs met and unable to get out of harm’s way! This in turn led to distraction, lack of focus, worry and anxiety as they turned to do their jobs.
Because of our flight, fight or freeze response, their bodies were reacting to what they were psychologically experiencing before they even knew it. The mind-body connection that is now so evident through neuroscientific discoveries over the last 20+ years shows how the body and emotional brain react before the cognitive brain can kick in. This distraction in neurological functioning in the brain disrupts the more reasoned, human brain leading to unfocused physical behavior.
How do we get thrown off-balance?
93% of how we communicate comes from what we see and what we hear BEFORE we even make cognitive sense of it, triggering things like muscle tension, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and release of the stress hormone, cortisol—throwing us off balance.
We now know through scientific evidence that our intellect, how smart we are or what we know, makes up only a third of what we are about. Instead, we function much more from what is our emotional intelligence, or lack thereof. Our E.I. is made up by our self-awareness, our awareness of others, our self-management and our management of relationships with others. This is where we get to beliefs, expectations, assumptions or attitudes, concerns or challenges and hopes—what I call the BEACH. We also uncover our Fears, Values and Needs through emotional intelligence.
How do we create psychological safety?
So how do we create some protection from the emotional storm around us. Again, we’ve invested great sums of money and time into physical safety and the workplace truly is a safer place to be than 20 years ago. But why do we still have so much in the way of EEOC and DFEH claims? Why do we have such high costs when it comes to absenteeism, illness, health insurance utilization and workers’ compensation rates.
Instead, building on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, let’s introduce a twist. Self-actualization is usually what you see at the top of the pyramid, but who really knows what that means? Instead, if we recoin the top to “self-Development” that’s more understandable, right? Ways to expand our emotional intelligence: the need to strive toward an environment that encourages self-protection, attention and focus, self-knowledge, self-efficacy, self-esteem, self-empowerment, self-control, self-discipline, consistency, initiative, curiosity, achievement, humor, creativity and spirituality.
My challenge to you: What’s missing in your workplace safety program? I bet it’s programs that address personal and leadership development that create an environment of psychological safety. That’s what I call the missing link to psychological health and safety.
Hi, my name is Dr. Debra Dupree. I help people master their relationships by connecting, listening and engaging to build powerful and persuasive presence, influence and impact. For more information on what you can do to maximize your footprint effectively and efficiently, schedule your complimentary Discovery Session here!