Is this your first Pandemic?

by | Nov 22, 2021 | All Blogs, Corporate Culture, Pandemic

Psychological safety at work

People tell me that this is the first pandemic they’ve ever experienced. It’s not! ‘Pandemic’ comes from the Greek word of PAN which means ‘all’, and DEMOS which means ‘people’, and a pandemic is defined as a disease that is prevalent throughout an entire country, or the entire world. A disease is a particular quality that adversely affects people. We’ve been living with a pandemic for decades, affecting the way that we live our lives and go about our work on a daily basis. What I’m talking about is the pandemic of engagement.

Lack of engagement is the disease, and this disease is leading to a lack of potential, productivity, performance and happiness.

So what exactly is engagement?

Gallup defines engagement in the workplace as having employees that are highly involved and enthusiastic about their work and their workplace. They drive performance and innovation throughout the workplace.

On the flip side, Gallup defines actively disengaged employees as not only unhappy, but resentful of their workplace. Actively disengaged employees are likely to try and undermine their leaders and the people around them. You can already see the vast chasm that sits between these two types of people. In the middle are the “meh” people – Gallup describes as psychologically unattached from their work and their company. These are the people that will turn up to work, but not necessarily put in any energy or passion at all.

In Gallup’s 2017 report, State of Global Workforce, they concluded that 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged. EIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT. What’s really interesting about this research is we know that 15% of employees are engaged, and out of the 85% that are not engaged, 18% of those people are actively disengaged. These are the people that are unhappy and resentful at work, and undermining the work being done by the 15%. (pie chart might be slicker?)

So let’s take this away from percentages and talk about numbers. What we know from Gallup is that 32% of the entire population are in full time work. That’s about 2.5 billion people. The engaged, 15% of 2.5 billion is 375 million people. The actively disengaged, 18% of 2.5 is 450 million. Therefore, we have about 75 million more people actively disengaged on earth than engaged.

I can hear people saying “Yes, Steve, that’s fine, but we’re different in Australia”. In fact, we’re not. We’re actually worse – only 14% across Australia and New Zealand are engaged.

Let’s put that into perspective. My friend Olive, who is actively disengaged from her work, has 168 hours in her week. Olive sleeps for eight hours at night, which is 56 hours per week. She’s got a full time job, which she goes to five days a week, for eight hours a day, that equates to 40 hours a week. So between Olive sleeping and going to work, that’s 96 hours per week, or almost 60% of her time. Olive is unconscious or unhappy for more than half of her week. Why should we care? We should care because that has a massive impact on Olive’s life. If we multiply it out across millions of people, it has a massive impact on organisational performance and the economy. So what does that mean? If you look at the Australian workers compensation report from 2018, you’ll see that work related mental health problems are on the rise. And in particular, there’s been a 54% increase in the amount of time lost to mental health claims since the year 2000. It’s now up to 17.3 weeks per claim since the year 2000. The amount of money that we pay out per mental health claim has gone up a whopping 166% and as recently as September 2020, the Human Resource Management Institute reported that psychological injuries caused at work are growing 15 times faster than physical injuries. I was having a chat to one of my good friends, Linda Ray from Neurocapability the other week, and she said to me: “ Steve, organisations can’t prevent mental health problems, but they sure can provide environments that don’t add to them.” So think about this, from your own team perspective and from your own organisation perspective, are you sure that your organisation is trying it’s best to create environments that don’t add to the mental health problems in this country?

Now let’s have a look at this from a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) and organisational performance perspective. In 2016, Gallup produced a report called The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes. What they concluded was, the relationship between engagement and workplace performance is substantially high. They found the performance of companies in the top quartile were four times better than the companies in the bottom quartile. As part of this report, Gallup broke down the performance of KPIs and compared them between the companies in the top and bottom quartile. The KPIs and percentages below show how much better the top quartile companies performed.

  • Customer Ratings – 10%
  • Profitability – 21%
  • Turnover – 24 to 59%
  • Absenteeism – 41%
  • Safety Incidents – 70%
  • Quality – 40%

All right, so that’s all really fascinating stuff. But what drives engagement?

That question was on the minds of the executive teams of Google, so a few years ago, they undertook a two year study across 180 teams. In their quest to figure out what makes up the perfect team. What they found was is that more than anything else, psychological safety was critical to make teams work. Dr. Amy Edmondson from Harvard, who is known as the modern day authority on psychological safety reported in 2018, that psychological safety predicts engagement, promotes mental health, and lowers turnover. As recently as 2020, Alex Glassey, from Conducter Software said that psychological safety is the route of engagement. So what we know is psychological safety is the driver of engagement. So the role of leaders and the role of organizations is to create and foster work environments where people feel a sense of psychological safety.

So what’s that? What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is when a person truly believes that they will not be humiliated or embarrassed or criticized, if they speak up about an idea, a concern, a question, or whether they’ve made a mistake. So it’s when a person faces that moment of truth, and they think to themselves, “if I say or do this now, will I be criticized? Will I be embarrassed? Will I be humiliated?” And it’s a moment of truth, because that’s when psychological safety in a team is really tested. According to Neurocapability and Conductor Software, there are five pillars to social experience. They are certainty, autonomy, relatedness, equity, and significance. What lies in the psychological safety in a team environment is potential. What we need to do though, is to find that potential, quantify it and prioritize it, we need to unlock it, and then we need to grow it.

Now all of this may seem really complex and hard, but it’s exactly what we do. Together with Conductor Software, culture 360 can measure the psychological safety levels in each of your teams in your organization.

We directly link those levels to the performance of each team, and your organisation, in order to and help you create interventions that positively impact psychological safety levels over time, and drive better results for your organisation.

There is a silver bullet.