Psychological safety in organisations and its impact on business continuity

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I’m reading a book about a South African officer in the First World War. At midnight in the trenches in freezing France, he would go out and inspect even the furthest points. He was there to ensure the safety of his soldiers.

Such is the mark of great leaders. In fact, this officer wanted to serve in the front lines as an ordinary infantryman. 

A high-ranking South African leader, who knew this officer during the Anglo-Boer war as a young soldier, persuaded him to rather attend officer training in the British Army.

When was the last time you saw leaders in your organisation go out into the front lines and speak to employees?

I suppose it’s easy to criticise where the leaders reside in an organisation. In plush meeting rooms with the finest coffee machines and secretaries at their beck and call. They are much like some of the officers in the Great War who spent most of their time underground in the safety of tunnels with staff making them meals and tea and coffee.

A recent Harvard Business Review article, “Resilient Organizations Make Psychological Safety a Strategic Priority” by Maren Gube and Debra Sabatini Hennelly, posits three cultural dimensions critical for resilience:

Integrity: Ethical leadership and courageous candour
Innovation: Fearless collaborative creativity
Inclusion: Authentic respect and belonging

Given the complexity of human relationships, there are probably more elements.

One factor that is important is reducing the level of uncertainty for job holders.

With various conflicting agendas in companies, employees often feel threatened and insecure. Job losses occur in many forms (sidelining, politics, retrenchments, downsizing, relocation, outsourcing to Asian countries and back to Europe), not only from poor financial performance by the company.

But while the threat of job loss is real, it is not the only factor that leads to employee disengagement. 

Many other factors also contribute: being underpaid (especially notable for women), limited career growth, poor management, unsupportive boss, lack of meaningful work and recognition, opportunities for growth, meaningful work and work-life balance.

For business continuity, these psychological aspects of work go beyond the usual legal safety requirements, which are more focused on physical safety than mental well-being.

The HRB article itself was prompted by many employees who have become “quiet quitters“ because of treatment in the workplace. 

Some polls put the percentage as high as half of the US workforce.

Business continuity relies on retaining and nurturing employees who bring many talents to an organisation. 

Employees with their experience, skills and expertise help to ensure its survival and growth in an uncertain world economy.

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