Health and well-being are often thought of in terms of physical health. But, with one out of every five adults diagnosed with a mental health disorder, emotional well-being has begun to get more attention, especially in the workplace.
Angela Beaudry, vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente, shared advice on creating a workplace blueprint for achieving psychologically healthy work environments for WTOP’s Get on Top of Your Health.
What is psychological health in the workplace?
“Psychological health and safety in the workplace is allowing the space for employees to have the confidence to speak freely without fear of retaliation — to bring ideas forward without being scared of the repercussions from their superiors or colleagues,” Beaudry said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the issue as managers strive to maintain a psychologically healthy workplace culture for their employees, whether they are working from home or in the office.
“There are a lot of industries that are still struggling with recovery. And I represent one of those industries in healthcare, where we are still dealing with sick patients, a tired workforce that is burnt out from several continuous years of strain and workforce shortages, overtime and stress,” she said.
Many companies are focusing on how to provide their employees the time and space they need, knowing that everyone works through different stressors and trauma at different paces.
Beaudry said it’s important that businesses are “not minimizing the stress that they went through in the pandemic and are still dealing with.”
What can a business do to increase psychological safety?
“It starts at the top,” with business leaders establishing a culture and set of norms, that they’re comfortable with modeling themselves, she said.
“When employees see that, they’ll know that it’s OK. It’s safe to do the same,” Beaudry said.
Some norms she suggested include respecting one another’s time in meetings, listening fairly, making sure leaders invite opposing views and encouraging new ideas from all corners of the organization — while also checking titles at the door.
There are ways to measure a company’s success. Beaudry suggested using basic metrics such as keeping track of employee satisfaction scores, turnover rates and employee engagement. Business leaders can start with simple staff surveys to get a baseline and then continue to measure progress.
“That helps put some numbers around your progress and how you’re doing,” she said. “It also helps direct where you should put your energy and effort.”
How KP creates space for psychological success
“We do a number of things to measure and focus our energy. We do that through our employee engagement surveys and culture of health surveys. And we really try to encourage and train our leaders to engage our employees in a thoughtful way,” Beaudry said.
Kaiser Permanente models a ‘speak up’ culture by hosting townhall sessions where employees have a chance to see their leadership team and get questions answered. Last year KP also held summer festivals at each location so that employees and leadership could engage on a more casual level.
But in this time of COVID-19 with some employees working from home and others in the office, employers are trying to find that right balance on how to help all employees feel psychologically at ease.
“At the end of the day, there’s not a playbook for this. And so employers are going to have to try different things,” Beaudry said.
“It may not be perfect right out the gate, and it might take a couple of different iterations, but it’s an opportunity for employees to really speak up and really say what they need.”
If you are a business leader and would like more information about psychological safety in the workplace, visit Kaiser Permanente’s Lead Boldly website. And to discover additional tips and tactics to get on top of your health, click here.