The Importance of Being Psychologically Safe at Our Workplace

(with due forgiveness from Mr. Wilde)

Dr. Jayita Deodhar, Mumbai

The International Labour Organization (ILO) (1) has marked 28th April each year to observe World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Observing this day brings to the forefront our collective responsibility of building a strong culture of safety at work, both physical and emotional. Prevention of accidents and injuries, safe use of chemicals at work, and radiation safety and protection, are some of the physical occupational risk strategies to be mindful of and mitigate. An equally important measure is the promotion of workplace health and well-being. This brings us to the concept of psychological safety at workplace, which I would like to focus on in this article.

So, what is psychological safety at work? It is a belief shared by team members at the workplace, that they will not undermine, reject or punish their fellow teammates for speaking up. Does it nudge you a little, whilst reading this concept? Does this remind you of some incident that happened where you work? Some time that you felt a bit scared of expressing your thought? Let’s be honest. Yes, it is bound to…. because that is the real world! We are all working in this great big team of the palliative care community in our country. To make our workplace a safe place, we need to ensure putting psychological safety into practice.

Experts talk about certain essential components of psychological safety – the sense of belonging, encouraging the ability to learn and contribute and feeling empowered to challenge thoughts in order to improve and grow. The team leaders and members have equal responsibilities of emphasising on psychological safety as a core work ethos, help each team member to be able to express their thought, encourage learning lessons from failure instead of punishing and resolving conflicts and allow expressing innovative ideas and practices.

Authors of an article on psychological safety report how it affects team performance and effectiveness (2). However, according to research, about 47% of workers felt that their workplaces were psychologically safe. Most of this research has been done in developed nations. The ‘safety’ is about – to express, to learn, to contribute and to challenge.

In our palliative care work, we constantly interact with and help sick and vulnerable patients and caregivers. We all know and talk about burnout and compassion fatigue and the importance of self-care measures. We talk about workplace stress and measures to manage the same. In a qualitative study on self-care practices adopted by palliative care physicians and nurses, one of the work place self-care strategies was to access support (3). In my opinion (and others), this support can be given by our peers, and by those with whom we feel comfortable with,  and those with whom we feel ‘safe’ with. Someone who actually ‘listens’ to us actively, and we feel are certain that we are not going to reap the consequences (adverse) for speaking our mind.

An encouraging and positive work place culture promoted by leaders and good role models will help in ensuring this much needed psychological safety. Authors have conducted research in a hospice setting on setting up a formal process for psychological safety. It is always tricky to balance the individual and organisational goals but reducing the distance between these will add towards improving psychological safety.

So, this World Day for Safety and Health at Work, let us all take a pledge to create a psychologically safe workplace – let’s listen to each other, encourage each other, share and contribute to each other’s growth, both personal and professional.

TAKE HOME

  • 28th April is World Day for Safety and Health at Work
  • Psychological safety at work is as important as physical safety
  • Psychological safety at work impacts team effectiveness
  • To create a psychologically safe place, we should be able to speak up, listen to each other, learn from each other, encourage each other and resolve conflicts productively.

References

  1. International Labour Organization https://sdg.iisd.org/events/world-day-for-safety-and-health-at-work-20
  2. Kim S, Lee H and Connerton TP (2020) How Psychological Safety Affects Team Performance: Mediating Role of Efficacy and Learning Behavior.  Psychol.11:1581. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01581
  3. Mills, J., Wand, T. & Fraser, J.A. Exploring the meaning and practice of self-care among palliative care nurses and doctors: a qualitative study. BMC Palliat Care17, 63 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12904-018-0318-0


About the Author: Dr. Jayita Deodhar is a Professor at the Department of Palliative Medicine, in Tata Memorial Hospital. She is also a Section Associate Editor of the Indian Journal of Palliative Care.

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