“The great resignation.” We’ve all heard this phrase being used to describe the workplace shift that has occurred during the pandemic. Part of this is because many people have pursued career options better aligned with the context of working from home and all this necessitates… managing children’s at-home learning and navigation new challenges to work-life balance. But there’s another layer underlying this workforce shift: the psychology of the pandemic era. We’ve experienced collective fear, disappointment, grief, and deferred expectations. This is why it’s essential for employers to learn about another phrase that has emerged during the pandemic era: “psychological safety.”
What is psychological safety? According to The Center for Creative Leadership, it is defined as “the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” In the context of the workplace, this means that employees trust they can share their input and opinions freely without negative repercussions. It means honest communication of expectations and goals and, consequently, the ability to discuss outputs transparently.
How does a hybrid workplace affect this? Working from home can test our boundaries. It can be difficult to divert our train of thought from the tracks of personal life into the track of work focus. Similarly, when you are working from the comfort of your living room, it’s easy to linger online after office hours. Whether we are conscious of it or not, working from home during the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and home life, and we co-mingling our thoughts.
Often, this blend is unwelcomed. It’s a vulnerable feeling to join a zoom call and allow all your colleagues a glimpse into your living space! (We’ve all seen the video of a man son’s toddler barging in on his Zoom interview!)
If we do not believe our employers and colleagues are accepting and honoring of our opinions and thoughts, working in this hybrid way is not sustainable.
So, how can you as a manager build a safe space?
- Establish recurring, one-on-one meetings with your staff that are for the sole purpose of personal check-ins. Allow this for casual conversation without any goals or outputs assigned. And let the individuals decide how personally they’d like to share— it’s important that they disclose only as much information as they’d like to. Often, people need to verbally process things going on in their life before they can switch over into productive discussions. Having a dedicated check-in time will help your team mentally cleanse so that other meetings can be more efficient.
- Manage expectations around time management and availability. Does your team need to be active and available throughout the day and transparent about workflow? Or does it work better if team members set their own schedule? Either way, be sure you’ve had a discussion and put the agreed plan into writing. Team members will feel psychological safety if they are sure what is expected of them. They will feel anxiety if they do not know when they can take their breaks.
- Set team guidelines for the use of Miscrosoft Teams, Slack, etc. Do you need to set away messages while away from your desk? While on the office, employees may feel more inclined to request PTO if needing to leave the office for personal errands. But while working from home, we’re re-negotiating what’s normal and acceptable use of our time during the workday. Be sure your employees have a clear standard to follow.
- Be intentional about making your video calls inclusive. One helpful tip is to set the ground rule that everyone mutes their cameras unless speaking. In Zoom, you can use “hand-raise” reactions and the chat function to be sure you have the floor while speaking. Decide which meetings should be “cameras-on.” You can include all these guidelines in the meeting invitation so everyone knows what to expect when they click “join call.” This reduces anxiety!
Ultimately, millennial employees will work in places where they know their input is values and their boundaries are respected. For millennials, jobs are about more than earning a salary, and so fair compensation may not be enough to retain an employee if they feel unfulfilled or that their psychological safety is being compromised. You can be proactive and flexible in the midst of this new work-from-home era to care for your employees and bolster retention!