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Setting the standard for Psychological Safety – in challenging times

By 27th July 2021Blog
Father Working From Home | Axiom Communications

At Axiom, our approach to employee engagement is heavily influenced and informed by the importance we place on creating Psychological Safety. More than just a buzzword, to us, it’s key. We help teams to foster a psychologically safe workplace; an environment in which everyone feels safe to speak up with their insights, ideas and concerns, ask for help and discuss mistakes without fear of being humiliated or punished – leading to a more innovative and successful organisation.

In this blog, Helen Reinson of Engage, our employee engagement app, tells us how the importance of Psychological Safety in the workplace has been recognised by the introduction of a new accreditation.

The importance of Psychological Safety in the workplace has recently been given extra gravitas through its recognition by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization), an independent, international NGO that develops standards to ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of products, services, and systems – and their introduction of a new accreditation.

Whilst not a particularly catchy name, ISO 45003 is to be used with ISO 45001, which highlights that the undertaking organization is responsible for the Occupational Health and Safety of workers – and indeed others who can be affected by its activities. This responsibility includes promoting and protecting the physical and psychological health of the workforce.

Recent events on the European stage painfully highlight the need for organizations to wrap protective arms around employees, following the vilification of three young, gifted and black football heroes in the England team, due to missed penalty shots. In this case, the abuse originated from a minority of disappointed fans, but was amplified through social media.

ISO states that it is ‘critically important for the organization to eliminate hazards and minimize OH&S risks by taking effective preventive and protective measures, which include measures to manage psychosocial risks. Psychosocial hazards are increasingly recognized as major challenges to health, safety and well-being at work.’

The moral argument for ensuring psychological safety in the workplace has never been stronger and the benefits to the employee, the organization and society are getting clearer by the day.

However, the argument is not only a moral one, but one that can have a real impact on a business’s bottom line, encouraging high performance amongst individuals and thus cultivating high performing teams. A recent survey published in the HBR found the highest-performing teams have one thing in common… the belief you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. This is not surprising considering on the flip side; neuroscience shows us that fear diverts physiological resources from parts of the brain that process new information, impairing problem solving. Accordingly, an increase of psychological safety in an organization can yield a 12% increase in productivity and 27% reduction in employee turnover!

ISO 45003 also makes reference to how well-being at work can also contribute to the quality of life outside of work. We all know that work related stress can all too easily spill into our social and family life, not only impacting ourselves but our loved ones too. Reports of domestic abuse and family violence increased around the world during isolation and quarantine measures were inflicted due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

In April 1970, the challenging situation surrounding the Apollo 13 NASA mission to the moon highlighted how a spirit of trust and psychological safety helped to quickly secure success. More than 50 years on and it seems we have been slow to grasp the criticality, not to mention the harvest to be had, from ensuring psychological safety in the workplace.

The time has come for leaders to model and reinforce the right behaviours – such as taking interpersonal risks to help employees feel safe to take a risk themselves – within the workplace, regardless of whether the organisation needs ISO accreditation or not, and to create the space for colleagues to speak up without fear of retribution or ridicule.

Whether you are considering the new ISO accreditation or not, At Axiom we have the tools to help your team’s levels of Psychological Safety grow. We will coach your leaders in how to foster and improve Psychological Safety in the workplace, and help measure levels of psychological safety amongst members of a team through our ground-breaking, interactive app, Engage.