The importance of psychological safety within the workplace
One of the most basic things any organisation can provide its employees with is an environment and culture that fosters psychological safety. And yet research shows that a significant portion of the workforce are continuously being failed by their employers in this regard. Two key cohorts are those experiencing menopause and imposter syndrome. Both are well known to have a negative impact on performance and the psychological wellbeing of employees, and yet both are still simultaneously ignored and heavily stigmatised within the world of work.
Negative emotions such as anxiety, lack of confidence and diminished self-esteem often lead to a negative mindset, where employees end up feeling demotivated and disengaged at work. And with a lack of healthy dialogue around either of these experiences, many employees can end up derailing their own careers.
Mishandling menopause in the workplace
51% of the world’s population experiences menopause, and yet it continues to be grossly mishandled in the workplace. CIPD data found that less than half of working women experiencing the menopause said they felt supported by their colleagues, and even fewer by their managers (just 32%). While over half of the women surveyed by the BSI cited difficulty raising menopause-related issues with their employers, with three-fifths feeling uncomfortable discussing health and wellbeing with male managers.
This lack of support is resulting in many women opting to leave the workforce prematurely, and in the worst cases, even being forced out of their organisations. The BSI found that almost one in three UK women expect to stop working before retirement age because of health and wellbeing concerns, including menopause. BUPA found that a staggering 900,000 women in the UK have left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms. And 36% of female NHS doctors have considered reducing their hours because of menopause, with one in five having considered early retirement.
A lack of empathy around imposter syndrome
On a similar note, a YouGov survey found that nearly three in five (58%) workers have experienced imposter syndrome, with 20% of leaders admitting to always or very frequently feeling like a fraud in the workplace. Research from NerdWallet then found that 78% of business leaders experience imposter syndrome, and that it has directly led to over half of them considering leaving their role. On top of this, KPMG found that 75% of female executives have experienced imposter syndrome throughout their career.
And yet despite its prevalence within the working population, a huge 94% of workers said they haven’t discussed their feelings at work, with 61% saying they fear it would present them as “a less capable employee”. The research from NerdWallet generated similar results in that just 21% of leaders said they had discussed their feelings of self-doubt with peers or other business leaders. As a result, many of these individuals will end up working longer hours to try and prove themselves, demonstrate a reluctance to ask for help and even avoid engaging in challenging work.
Clearly, many employers aren’t doing enough to create an environment where employees feel safe to talk about personal issues, nor are they providing sufficient support or empathy to those impacted.
So what can businesses do to create psychological safety for all employees
Lead by example
Firstly, employers need to do a better job of creating a culture of transparency and trust, where employees feel more comfortable discussing sensitive issues at work, especially when they’re impacting their performance. And this can only be achieved from the top-down, by leaders who demonstrate integrity in their relationships with others, understand how their own actions and beliefs can impact colleagues – altering their responses accordingly – and who are strong communicators. All of these are behaviours that any leader can learn and refine over time, meaning there really is no excuse for failing to demonstrate empathetic leadership in today’s world of work.
Line manager training and workforce education
Line manager training will also be pivotal in ensuring managers are equipped to have open communication with their direct reports, where they can build strong relationships with their team members and be in a position to identify if an individual is struggling and in need of additional support. Unfortunately, because of the stigma that surrounds talking about issues such as menopause and mental health, there are likely to be barriers to these conversations taking place. Which is why business leaders have to provide ongoing educational opportunities for their entire workforce. This way, all employees can begin to understand the symptoms and potential side-effects of menopause, allowing a culture where it feels safe to discuss such issues with management and colleagues to be created.
Finally, coaching support can provide employees with a sense of psychological safety if they still feel uncomfortable discussing their experiences with colleagues and managers. While it’s important to clarify that coaching is not therapy, health issues of any kind can have a hugely negative impact on employees at work, and therefore should be addressed within a professional capacity. Having access to regular coaching sessions can help employees engage in self-reflection exercises and increase their self-awareness, allowing them to disprove any negative thoughts stemming from low self-esteem or self-confidence with evidence of their success and previous achievements. They can also identify and discuss the triggers behind any feelings of anxiety and self-doubt, working with their coach to find ways of managing them more effectively.
It’s time to reframe the narrative, remove the stigma and ensure employees feel supported in bringing their whole selves to work.