More humanity, please

Fostering a psychologically safe workplace

3 tactics to build inclusion, team performance, and better leaders
Fostering a psychologically safe workplace
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Hannah Yardley is a talent leader with over 20 years of experience consulting to a variety of global organizations in the areas of talent strategy, operational excellence, and cultural transformations. As the CHRO at Achievers her mandate is to empower employee success through all facets, employee engagement, organizational effectiveness, organization development, and talent strategy.

Behind tired eyes and wide smiles could be an untold story—from an early-morning panic attack to late-night insomnia. Mental and emotional health plague the minds of most workers, with half of employees revealing that they’re stressed and only one in five reporting a strong sense of well-being at work, according to a recent Achievers Workforce Institute (AWI) study. Today, employees failing to perform are unrightfully dubbed “quiet quitters” instead of “human beings.” Many people are fighting silent battles—and leaders must build a culture of psychological safety to promote employee wellness.

Individual well-being is critical to organizational success, and when it’s lacking, leaders will see low productivity, high absenteeism, and increased turnover. Unfortunately, despite wellness being top-of-mind for many HR teams, the current initiatives are not landing. Employees are only half as likely as HR leaders to say their company supports workplace well-being. Though company-coordinated yoga classes and mental health days don’t go unnoticed, research reveals the three most significant factors contributing to well-being at work are more nuanced. Here are tactics Achievers has leveraged to build a psychologically safe workplace with our data from our recent study to support the actions.

Step 1: Building inclusion, acceptance, and value

People feel grief after losing a family member. People feel stressed while raising their first child. People feel insecure when coming out as LGBTQ+. People have real, raw emotions that are too often overlooked due to deadlines and demands. When leaders are openly vulnerable, it encourages employees to show up as their whole, authentic selves, creating a culture of psychological safety. Upon joining Achievers, it quickly became one of the first places I felt I could authentically show up as myself. I didn’t feel guilty for trying to get home early to see my kids or taking much-needed, proper time away. This was only possible because I felt safe enough to do so and welcomed to share my challenges and needs.

Here’s how: A great way to build upon workplace inclusion is by creating employee resource groups (ERGs). Employees can celebrate dissimilarities, encourage continuous learning, and uplevel overall belonging with these groups. Employees who say their organization has ERGs or affinity groups are three times more likely to say they are supported in developing a strong sense of belonging at work. Everyone has a crew and encouraging employees to find theirs is key to workplace wellness.

At Achievers, ERGs have a self-selected senior sponsor because we believe leaders are better equipped to make actionable change when they’re representing a mission they’re passionate about. Their role isn’t about governance but true sponsorship to help elevate the ERG voice and bring them to the table in meaningful ways for our colleagues and the business. To further amplify the ERG voice, we fund our programs to give them the resources needed to increase their organizational impact.

Step 2: Offer warm welcomes and collaborative team cultures

It’s natural for a new job to trigger new anxieties. Companies with a thoughtful onboarding process will help employees bypass the first-month-of-work jitters. It can be as simple as ensuring employees have the information and resources needed to succeed or as thoughtful as giving new hires welcome cards, an initiative that has proven impactful at Achievers. Pairing good automation with a manager’s dedication to the practice means close to 100% of our new hires get a welcome card within their first seven days.

Here’s how: Companies with the smoothest onboarding processes leverage HR tech solutions to introduce new hires to like-minded coworkers, known as employee pairing solutions. By recreating water cooler conversations and informal coffee chats, these solutions improve onboarding and help existing employees—who normally would not interact—connect on similar interests and form meaningful workplace friendships. In doing so, leaders deepen social connections in their workforce, improve job satisfaction, and, perhaps most importantly, build psychological safety.

Achievers takes the onboarding process seriously, leveraging employee pairing solutions to connect colleagues and also honing in on real-time feedback. Our CEO, Jeff Cates, meets with every new employee via “Coffee with Cates,” actively seeking feedback on their first three months at the organization. Through this initiative, employees know their voice is being heard, and action is being taken, elevating the experience for the next cohort of new hires.

Step 3: Build more effective managers

Employees who feel supported by their manager or colleagues are more than twice as likely to feel physically and mentally healthy. The right manager can support, inspire and develop employees, driving incredible results for the organization. Yet, managers must have the tools and insight to do so. People leaders are most effective when they receive consistent training in core areas of manager effectiveness, create a culture of recognition to encourage public, values-based appreciation, and lean on team-fueled insight via regular employee feedback.

Here’s how: A significant part of being a supportive manager is singing employee praises regularly through meaningful, specific recognition. Individuals who say they receive meaningful recognition weekly report better well-being outcomes on a range of measures. However, managers should not reserve recognition for tenured employees with proven track records for success. Providing recognition during onboarding is critical to setting the ‘wellness’ stage. At Achievers, we’ve made new hire recognition a top priority. We use onboarding checklists for leaders and include behavioral actions—like giving recognitions—within the first week. New hires feel immediately supported, cultivating a strong employee-manager dynamic from the jump.

Though we’ve made significant progress in recent years, our wellness initiatives must continue to be refined and perfected. The new year marks an optimal time to rethink current practices and find measurable ways to foster a psychologically safe workplace (at last).