Psychological safety refers to the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves while taking an interpersonal risk like calling out missed opportunity or pointing a mistake. Just as physical risk to health, infrastructure and business, environment can pose a risk to psychological health and safety of the employees too.
Work-related stress develops overtime when a person is unable to cope with the repeated demands placed on them. Stress can be debilitating and anyone at any level of the business in any industry could experience it.
The first step in working towards creating a workplace that provides psychological safety is to identify and reduce psychological stressors in one’s ecosystem.
Common psychological stressors include:
■ Varying workload
■ Perceived lack of control
■ Unsupportive work environment
■ Bullying and lack of respect
■ Shifting goals or sudden change
Continuous exposure to psychological stressors could have a cumulative effect on psychological health of the employees and this in turn could result in burnout, loss of motivation, low employee engagement and absenteeism and in severe cases mental illness. There are many symptoms of problems related to psychological health and many of these are initiated by lack of Psychological safety. This includes loss of appetite, fatigue, disinterest in social interactions and loss of motivation or sense of achievement.
Strengthscape’s training program related to Stress Management and Psychological safety are typically hands on workshops that could help your team overcome fear of taking interpersonal risk and free expression; and increase collaboration and vulnerability-based trust.
Stress, which is not an illness, but a state can result in mental illness if not managed well. Everyone has a different threshold for tolerating stress. Further, there is a difference between challenge and stress. Challenge or pressure could be a motivating factor which is important for success. However, repeated challenge, beyond the tolerance limit can result in stress. Stress, on the contrary, is a natural response – mental and physiological response to too much demand on a person beyond their capacity.
People have different stressors. What one person finds stressful is not necessarily another person’s stressor. Our stress tolerance varies and so does our response to different types of stresses. Personality factors, behavioural preferences, culture, health status, ethnicity and age etc can all be possible stressors.
According to Hans Selye who is also known as the father of stress: ‘Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older”. He studied stress in detail and divided our stress response into three stages – alarm, resistance and exhaustion stages.
The alarm stage, a fight or flight response is essentially a signal to the body that the organism is in a threatful situation. This prepares to respond to the threat and is expressed as higher blood pressure, enhanced pulse rate and an obvious shortness of breath. In the next stage, “Resistance stage”, the body tries to cope with stress and return to the balanced state – of pre-stress levels. If the stressors continue to provide “stress”, the body enters the “Exhaustion stage”. This stage is an outcome of continuous fight between the body and the stressor. Continuous, unending stress can overpower the body. As the body succumbs to the stressor, we may experience low immunity to bacterial infections, mental illness, insomnia etc.
Managers and leader have the authority, means and opportunities to create a workplace that is free from stress and fear. By promoting intellectual diversity, psychological safety and team norms that enhance collaboration, managers have an opportunity to enable employees to work in an engaging workplace with little fear or stress. Managing stress and creating an environment free of fear will lead to higher productivity and organizational effectiveness.