An Emotionally Safe Working Environment Makes Everybody Flourish
7 concrete tips to create social safety.
Marty de Jonge
In the workplace, nothing is more important than people daring to be themselves. Imagine walking on your toes for more than 30 hours a week, not feeling comfortable, no one around you to have a genuine conversation with.
This will make everyone gloomy or stressed! Therefore, the theme “Social Values” is one of the most important factors that influence job happiness and engagement, and with it, the success of organizations.
Social values are about the importance and creating of an emotionally safe working environment in which co-workers can and dare to show their true personalities, talents, motivations, and uncertainties. With the term social values, you can think of diversity & inclusiveness, a sense of freedom of expression, equality, respect, and honesty.
How do you create an emotionally safe environment?
Before you can answer this question, it is important to take a critical look at what is actually happening in your workplace in terms of social values. And especially to what is not (yet) happening.
- Are social values in the organization high on the agenda?
- Does the organization know how to create an emotionally safe environment?
- Does everyone always feel safe at work?
- To what extent is there complete openness in the organization?
- Is everyone welcome? Whether someone is male or female, whether someone believes in something or believes in nothing, whether someone is a refugee or not?
- Do men and women earn equal to each other?
If you cannot fully answer YES to these types of questions, you still have work to do.
The importance of openness
The importance of this can be deduced from the Maslow pyramid (1943). In his pyramid, Maslow already showed that the basic need for safety must be met before achieving self-development. In other words: a safe foundation is necessary to make people flourish and to develop themselves.
This applies to life in general, but certainly also in the workplace. To ensure that everybody feels comfortable at work, it is important that they feel comfortable with themselves. The more open colleagues can and dare to be with each other, the more success they will achieve together. “
“Only when you provide openness in the basis will value eventually come to exist”
The importance of personal leadership
If an organization does not communicate openly about certain expectations, norms, and values, it also doesn’t create an open environment for the people working there.
Only when openness is provided to both current and potential co-workers, ultimately true value will arise. Beliefs, traits, motivations, norms, and values that underlie behavior within the organization only become visible when these are communicated openly (the Need theory of McClelland).
For example, communicating clear business ethics and clear guidelines for how you interact with each other can help enormously in creating and maintaining an open and socially safe working environment. Personal leadership is of great importance in this. A movement must arise from above or below to break certain disrupted behavior patterns.
How do you recognize socially unsafe situations?
In organizations, socially unsafe behavior patterns and situations occur in all shapes and sizes. Often it is only short moments that pass unnoticed. (If they are noticed at all….) In that case, the moment to say something about it is often over.
In addition, people tend to flee or shut themselves off in socially unsafe situations for fear of not being part of the group when they share a different opinion. Several examples and signs of socially unsafe situations are:
- Someone who is portrayed as a “he always knows better” in a meeting with colleagues without context.
- A manager who trivializes that everything is not so bad when an employee shares that a colleague is harassing her.
- A colleague who is always alone during the break.
- Sexually tinted comments about women in a setting with and without women.
- People who complain without taking ownership of the subject.
It can be pretty difficult to spot such situations on the spot and intervene immediately. However, if you or your co-workers in the organization do nothing at such moments, it will ultimately result in the loss of people. Precisely by having an open conversation, you can reduce certain tensions and restore safety.
7 Tips To Create Social Safety
1. It starts with embracing and discussing social values through leadership (personal or formal). Put social values (high) on the agenda and create insight into how things are going within the organization.
2. Set the right example and be vulnerable. How open and approachable do you show yourself?
3. Don’t leave it behind insights. Convert insights into an active policy to safeguard social values in the organization.
4. Be transparent. Don’t avoid conflicts. Be a mirror to each other and ask questions of conscience such as “How would you like to be treated?”
5. Always follow your feelings and intuition. Does something feel wrong? Do you continue to rewind a certain situation? Then do not ignore this and raise it with the people in the relevant situation.
6. Every organization has people who have a great sense of integrity and justice. The question is: do you know them, and how well does everybody really listen to these people?
7. Continue to ask for feedback about your own behavior. What is happening in your organization? Talk about this. Consciously search for difficult topics to discuss and put them on the table.
Everyone can contribute to a secure organization. The more open you are, the more open your colleagues will be. You always have an influence on what happens because you are always there. So also bring in your own social norms and values to the work floor!
Marty de Jonge
As an agnostic change agent, I am constantly amazed at what happens in organizations and learn every day. Enthusiastic writer and always open for discussion.