Emotional Safety and Security in the Workplace
People work at their best when they feel emotionally safe and secure. They focus their energy on solving problems, and not on their worries that they could be rejected. Secure employees are also happier and more satisfied employees.
Emotional safety can only occur after physical safety is assured. Physical safety is more than just protection from job hazards; it is also about workplace intolerance for interpersonal intimidation or violence.
People report feeling secure when they know what they are doing, and when they believe their supervisor also views them as competent in their job. The emotional safety comes from the sense that they will not be in trouble because they are unlikely to screw up.
So, people who have been around and have had good reviews tend to feel safe. Additionally, when employees have been handed opportunities to lead and operate independently, there is evidence that the system appreciates and accepts them. Longer term employees tend to feel safer and more secure.
So, how do you get newer employees to that place of safety? First, you welcome them. The process indicates that they are valued. Second, you define their job role and expectations. And third, you review regularly how their performance matches with expectations. Fourth, when they do well, you reward them, perhaps monetarily, but certainly personally.
The real trick comes when there are mistakes or failures. Employees (usually) worry about mistakes and their consequences. The sooner one actually occurs, the better. An episode of an error becomes the opportunity to clarify how you will deal with the person when things go wrong. Most people hate making mistakes and anticipate a rejecting response. When you review with the employee what happened and how it happened, in a nonjudgmental manner, they are relieved.
This is the process that sets up the proper risk-taking approach by the employee. It establishes the tone for the employee’s future effort to come up with new ideas and creatively solve problems. The employee says to himself, “Okay, now I know how creative I can be and what the consequences will be if I screw up.”
Creating emotional safety and security is not difficult if the culture of the organization cares to do it. The process is not about spending money, but about a commitment to the well-being of staff. Oh yes, and it is also about improving the bottom line.
Tom DeMaio, PhD