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In the New Future of Work, HR and Organizational Leaders Must Consider Three Pillars of Psychological Safety for Employees, Says McLean & Company

Health and safety at work has evolved from a singular focus on physical safety to a multifaceted approach that addresses the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of health.

As both prospective and current employees continue to hold higher expectations for employers, the concept of employee health and wellbeing has expanded beyond just the physical. In 2023, organizations are increasingly expected to provide a holistic approach to employee wellness that recognizes psychological safety as an integral component. Although psychological safety is a point of popular discussion, there are many misconceptions, and organizations may be unsure of where to start. In response, global HR research and advisory firm McLean & Company has released its newest guide, Introduction to Psychological Safety for HR.

The firm’s industry resource was created to provide the information and tools needed to convey best practices for executives, senior leadership, people leaders, and employees to build psychological safety at work. In the guide, McLean & Company has defined three pillars of psychological safety:

  1. Prevent harm – Employees feel secure in the knowledge that they are protected from physical, emotional, and psychological harm.

  2. Promote health – The organization actively builds an environment where employees feel physically, emotionally, and psychologically healthy.

  3. Resolve incidents and concerns – When incidents occur or employees raise concerns, the organization takes steps to resolve the issue and takes responsibility.

While the three pillars offer a jumping-off point for HR and organizational leaders, there is more that leaders need to consider.

“Psychological safety is not a checklist item or quick fix,” says Grace Ewles, manager of HR Research & Advisory Services at McLean & Company. “Rather, it is an ongoing effort that requires commitment from key stakeholders and strong alignment between the organization’s norms, leadership behaviors, and day-to-day processes.”

What Ewles is referring to are the elements of psychological safety at work, which organizations must align to be successful in their pursuit of a holistically safe workplace. The elements are as follows:

  • Organizational norms – Shared standards of acceptable behavior that are socially enforced and guide all interactions across the organization. For example, celebrating others’ accomplishments.

  • Leadership behaviors – Actions, values, and characteristics that leaders incorporate to motivate their team and achieve their goals. This includes promoting honest dialogue and proactive debate.

  • Artifacts – The organization’s processes, policies, and procedures, such as including psychological safety in existing health and safety policy.

The firm advises HR professionals and organizational leaders that actions speak louder than words when it comes to creating a psychologically safe place in the future of work. Aligning the above elements and prioritizing the three pillars of psychological safety are necessary steps in the process of designing and sustaining a safe workplace culture and environment, but it is the C-suite, leadership, and HR team’s responsibility to demonstrate the organization’s true intentions and commitment to this work. Therefore, ensuring behaviors from key stakeholders are also aligned is critical to overall success.