Have you ever found yourself holding back a brilliant idea out of fear of ridicule or dismissal by your colleagues? This hesitation signifies a lack of psychological safety in the workplace. But imagine a different scenario—a workplace where you feel comfortable expressing your opinions openly, regardless of their imperfections. A place where you trust that your team members will listen respectfully and be receptive to your feedback. This is the kind of workplace where psychological safety thrives, the kind needed for employees and businesses in times of transformational change.
Psychological safety in the workplace is a critical factor for promoting employee well-being, job satisfaction, and productivity. Practically speaking, it means individuals can share opinions, ask questions, and express concerns without facing negative consequences. When employees feel psychologically safe, they proactively solve problems. Executives see innovation, job satisfaction, and higher returns. But how can an organization achieve psychological safety?
According to a study by Rockmann and colleagues (2019), workplace psychological safety is closely related to brain functions, enzymes, and processes that regulate emotions and cognitive processes. The amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hypothalamus are key brain areas involved in psychological safety and emotional regulation. The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure located deep within the temporal lobe, plays a crucial role in processing emotional information, particularly fear and threat detection (Phelps & LeDoux, 2005). When employees feel psychologically unsafe in a workplace, the amygdala can become overactive, leading to heightened emotional responses and a heightened sense of threat.
The prefrontal cortex, located in the front of the brain, involves cognitive processes such as decision-making, impulse control, and working memory. It regulates emotions, particularly negative emotions such as anxiety and fear (Davidson, Putnam, & Larson, 2000). When employees feel psychologically unsafe in the workplace, the prefrontal cortex can become less active, impairing their ability to regulate their emotions and making it more challenging to think clearly and make effective decisions.
The hypothalamus, located in the brain’s center, is critical in regulating the stress response (Ulrich-Lai & Herman, 2009). When employees feel psychologically unsafe, the hypothalamus can activate, releasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Over time, chronic activation of the stress response can lead to physical and mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and burnout (McEwen, 2007). Therefore, promoting workplace psychological safety is not only crucial for employees’ well-being, but it can also lead to increased productivity and organizational success (Edmondson, 2018).
Enzymes such as monoamine oxidase and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) regulate emotional responses in the brain. Monoamine oxidase breaks down neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, crucial in regulating mood and emotional responses. COMT breaks down dopamine, which regulates emotional responses and reward-based learning. These enzymes can be influenced by environmental factors such as stress and social support, which can impact emotional regulation and psychological safety in the workplace.
Businesses operate in an ever-changing landscape and a heightened level of transition. To manage the speed of change and keep costs in control, the best executives want every employee working as part of a team. They want teams to become more engaged in error prevention and for solutions to challenges to quickly emerge. To achieve that kind of speed and focus, psychological safety encourages honest feedback, quick adaptation, and personal growth to remain relevant in the market. Consequently, employees are more likely to contribute and help without needing to be asked to do so.
Creating psychological safety requires ongoing effort and commitment. Here are some tips to help you achieve it:
Remember, creating psychological safety is an ongoing process that requires commitment from employers and employees alike. To foster a workplace culture that values psychological safety, promotes well-being, and drives business success is an intentional act of leadership.
Denise Cooper is a executive trainer, author, podcast host, and Chief People Operations at Custom Health and Founder and CEO of Remarkable Leadership Lessons, a company that assists senior-level business leaders and managers in raising their game. Katrina Hardie is a Workplace Wellbeing Culture Consultant who helps individuals, leaders, and teams recognize how their work environment impacts their health, well-being and performance and teaches them methods to turn this around in a sustainable way.
Rockmann, K. W., Ballinger, G. A., & Buckley, M. R. (2019). Managing for team psychological safety. Organizational Dynamics, 48(1), 6-15.
Phelps, E. A., & LeDoux, J. E. (2005). Contributions of the amygdala to emotion processing: From animal models to human behavior. Neuron, 48(2), 175-187.
Davidson, R. J., Putnam, K. M., & Larson, C. L. (2000). Dysfunction in the neural circuitry of emotion regulation—A possible prelude to violence. Science, 289(5479), 591-594.
Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Herman, J. P. (2009). Neural regulation of endocrine and autonomic stress responses. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), 397-409.
McEwen, B. S. (2007). Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: Central role of the brain. Physiological Reviews, 87(3), 873-904.
Edmondson, A. C. (2018). The fearless organization: Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth. John Wiley & Sons.
Excerpted from: https://hughculver.com/the-art-of-asking-for-what-you-need
When I was a kid my Dad was my hero. He wore a 3-piece suit to his accounting office, was always in control, and could fix anything. On weekends, the older kids became his soldiers marching around the property hauling downed branches, stacking wood, or some other work we couldn’t screw up. If it needed doing, we did it.
Rarely did I see him ask for help.
In my businesses, I readily adopted a similar philosophy, even when I had partners. I was the soldier braving the way, preferring to work in solitude. So I worked long hours and prided myself in being able to solve any challenge. My mantra was “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.”
Now, years later I feel the heavy burden of my misguided philosophy. Instead of strength, it was a recipe for burnout and staying small.
It’s a funny thing to ask for help.
It seems so simple. You need advice or help to get a project off the ground, but instead of looking for help, you do what you always do and struggle to do it yourself.
What holds us back from simply asking for help?
Western societies value independence, argues psychologist Dale Miller. so asking others to go out of their way to help us may seem selfish – even wrong. “We tend to apply a more pessimistic, self-interested view about human nature,” writes Miller.
Asking for help can feel like weakness – like reaching up for a hand when you know you are sinking. One study revealed that by the age of seven children begin to connect asking for help as looking incompetent in front of others. Stanford researcher, Kayla Good suggests that our hesitation to ask for help could stem from being overly concerned about burdening or inconveniencing others.
Or we can make it feel like an invitation.
What if you reframe the ‘ask’ into an invitation? The invitation is for someone to enjoy doing something they like doing and you aren’t good at or don’t have the time for.
I’m leading a team in our City to build a new building for a not-for-profit and needed a volunteer with construction management experience. I don’t know anyone with those skills, but I knew that over the last decade, we had accumulated a large mailing list of members, supporters, and families. So, despite the doubts of my project committee, I sent out a short email inviting someone to volunteer for the role.
Within an hour I had two responses.
By the end of the week, four experienced project managers had all put their hands up willing to help. In fact, it worked so well that I repeated the campaign a month later and received three volunteers for another role that needed filling.
If you ask for help, it can feel like a gap you need help filling. Like you are failing and need to be bailed out. But, if you invite someone to help it is like offering a gift.
My father taught me that one kind of strength is independence and self-reliance. “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.” Another kind of strength – the type I used to label as lazy or self-serving – is asking for help.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.” Barack Obama said in his speech to high school students in 2009. “Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.”
I’m really good at a few things, competent in a few others, and pretty well hopeless in almost everything else. Knowing my limitations is a strength.
It’s not a weakness to ask for help—it is a strength.
Over to you…
Where in your life or work do you need to ask for help?
When someone says something insensitive, use this simple three-word phrase to stay productive and move on.
Picture this – “Still working?”
It was an innocent question, but it triggered me. I just smiled uncomfortably and walked away, silently seething.
Why, you ask?
In the moment, with no control over the rush of thoughts going through my head, here’s how I interpreted the question:
Of course, I doubt Dad was thinking those last two questions (although I’m sure he was thinking the first two).
You want to be the bigger person and just let it go, but you’re not sure how.
Well, I’ve discovered a simple, three-word phrase that helps me deal with comments like these.
That phrase is: They don’t know.
Why is this phrase so effective? The reason has to do with the meaning behind the phrase, and its foundation in emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions. (If you find value in this lesson, you might be interested in my free course, which teaches you how to build emotional intelligence in yourself and your team.)
“They don’t know” is shorthand for one or more of the following:
The goal of “They don’t know” isn’t for you to look down on the other person, or to demean them. It’s simply recognizing that there’s no possible way they could know what it’s like to walk in your shoes.
Acknowledging this fact frees you from attaching too much emotional significance to what they’ve said.
It changes your feelings from: “I can’t believe they said that” to “Oh, yeah. They don’t know. All good.”
Like, my father-in-law has never owned a business, so he doesn’t know what it’s like. He also only sees a small snapshot of my life.
“They don’t know” can also help you.
Think about the client or vendor that misunderstands you: They don’t know.
The friend that makes clueless comments: They don’t know.
The member of your volunteer group, or your kid’s teacher … who just doesn’t get it: They don’t know.
Use three little words and remind yourself: They’re not mean or horrible or bad.
They just don’t know.
By Steve Burns
In the era of constant hustle and the pursuit of productivity, I was drawn to a different path. One of less haste and a slower pace, one that I set myself. This is the path known as slow living. An alternative to the fast-paced, stress-filled life that our modern society so often promotes and produces in our lives. It’s an intentional shift in perspective, a choice to prioritize the quality of our moments over the quantity of our tasks.
I work hard each day but do it at my pace, on my terms, and for myself. My top priority is not earning more money and doing more work; it’s doing what I enjoy when I want to and fitting into the context of my complete life. I optimize my life for happiness, ease, and enjoyment, not hustling every minute and hour of the day. Working smart will take you farther than working hard; if you work smart and hard, you will be unstoppable. The key is to turn work into play by focusing on your passions and then doing the work on a schedule that optimizes your work energy. Everyone is different.
Slow living isn’t just about slowing down. It’s about embracing a more intentional and meaningful approach to life. It focuses on quality over quantity, simplicity over complexity, and presence over distraction. By adopting these principles of slow living, we can alleviate our stress and anxiety, inviting peace, joy, and satisfaction into our daily life.
You can cultivate the following eight habits to create more enjoyment in your day-to-day experience. Let’s slow down and focus on what is most important.
Mindfulness encourages us to immerse ourselves entirely in our current activity. It could be as simple as savoring the taste of your morning coffee, paying attention to the sensation of warm sunlight on your skin, or noticing the rhythm of your breath as you sit quietly. The beauty of mindfulness lies in its simplicity – it requires nothing more than your presence and attention. Mindfulness slows down the pace of our lives and can bring peace as we focus on the present moment escaping the memories of the past and the perceived urgent tasks waiting for us in the future. Be cautious of getting trapped in a lifestyle that is so fast-paced it creates mindlessness.
Unplugging can feel liberating in a world of constant notifications and digital noise. Try setting aside specific times when you step away from screens during the day. It could be during meals, before bedtime, or even a few hours in the afternoon. This daily period of digital detox allows you to connect more authentically with your family and your thoughts. Intermittent digital fasting can give you periods of peace without external noise from social media, emails, texts, and notifications. If you want to slow down, escape your phone.
Pursue activities that bring you joy and relaxation. It might be losing yourself in the pages of a captivating book, tending to your garden, sitting by the pool, lake, or beach, immersing in the soothing melodies of classical music, or engaging in a fun, slow-paced game. These leisure moments are not just pastimes; they are essential to living a balanced and fulfilling life. Diversify your time and life to include enjoyable, peaceful, fun, and relaxing activities. Everyone is different, so choose your personal favorite.
A daily dose of nature can work wonders for your well-being. This could mean a brisk walk in your local park, time at the beach or lake, a mountain hike, or simply enjoying a beautiful sunrise or sunset from your backyard or balcony. Nature can ground us, reminding us of our connection to the world and life cycles. Watching wildlife like birds and noticing the clouds or rain can all be relaxing and slow down the pace of life at any time.
Embrace the power of gratitude. Take a few moments each day to reflect on what you appreciate. It could be as important as a loving family or as simple as a delicious meal. Cultivating gratitude can help you to see the abundance in your life, shifting your focus from what’s missing to what’s already there. Gratitude can slow down the mental grind for more when you stop to notice what you already have. Happiness can grow the day you realize you already have more than enough.
Prioritize relationships that bring joy, support, and understanding into your life. These might be with family members, friends, or a life partner. Relationships are at the heart of our human experience, and nourishing them is fundamental to our happiness and sense of belonging. The inverse of this is getting toxic people out of your life helps reduce suffering exponentially. Bad marriages, bad bosses, and toxic family members are not the path to an enjoyable life at your own pace.
Consider decluttering your physical and mental space. Remove nonessential items, commitments, and thoughts that don’t serve your well-being. Creating a more minimalist lifestyle makes room for what truly matters – ease, clarity, and contentment. Focus on what is essential for your happiness and eliminate what is unnecessary or wanted. An enjoyable slow life is not busy with the upkeep and maintenance of many material things.
Self-care isn’t an indulgence; it’s a necessity. Pay attention to your mental and emotional health, exercise regularly, nourish your body with wholesome foods, and prioritize restful sleep. Your well-being is the foundation for building a fulfilling and meaningful life. You must slow down enough to be able to take care of yourself. Fast pace lifestyles are dangerous for the bad habits they create, like eating fast food and junk food, a lack of exercise, and destructive paths for stress management like drinking and smoking. With a slow lifestyle, you are the top priority.
The principles of slow living offer a roadmap to a life of less stress and more fulfillment. By embracing mindfulness, we immerse ourselves in the depth of each moment. By disconnecting from the digital world at times, we forge authentic connections. Inviting relaxation through activities we love, spending time in nature, practicing gratitude, nurturing meaningful relationships, simplifying our life, and practicing self-care all contribute to this enriching philosophy. Each of these elements, when woven together, creates a system of slow living. This suggested strategy is a gentle reminder that life isn’t a race, but a journey to be savored, one beautiful, intentional moment at a time. I escaped the fast-paced life of corporate careers and big-city living long ago and have never had any regrets.