Psychological Safety and Mental Health: How are They Related?

When it comes to impact on workplace culture and psychological safety, mental health needs to be considered. Organizations that have poor psychological safety will be negatively affecting the mental health of all of their employees. This could be especially damaging to those who are already dealing with mental health issues. However, negative effects on mental health affect everyone’s work performance as well as their stress levels, no matter their mental health status. 

What is Psychological Safety?

One of the earliest definitions of psychological safety is from William Kahn in the 1990s. He says that psychological safety is “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.”. In the workplace, this looks like a culture where:

  1. People are free to share ideas.
  2. Productive conflict is encouraged.
  3. Failure and mistakes are treated as opportunities for growth.

What is Mental Health?

There are many aspects to mental health, including our emotional, psychological and social well-being. Mental health is powerful and directly impacts our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It also influences how you handle stress, act in relationships and make day-to-day choices. Positive mental health allows people to handle daily stressors, make healthy decisions and enjoy their lives. It also supports performance at work. Poor mental health makes life challenging and can harm work performance. 

How Does Psychological Safety Affect Mental Health?

The level of psychological safety in the workplace has a direct impact on everyone’s mental health. However, those employees that are living with mental health issues, or with past trauma, might experience these effects more profoundly. Here are some of the ways that a lack of psychological safety at work impacts mental health.

  1. Unhealthy family dynamics can unconsciously be created in the workplace and can become a direct mirror of trauma someone experienced growing up. Even if the circumstances aren’t as unsafe as those in their past, it can still lead to employees experiencing a recreation of a neglectful or critical parent or authority figure. 
  2. Employees who aren’t able to express themselves fully at work can shut down and deny their authentic selves. (This means that organizations are not fully reaping the potential of their talented employees.)
  3. Experiencing shame at the hand of a manager or in a meeting can damage self-esteem and cause employees to experience self-doubt about themselves or their abilities. 
  4. Employees in unsafe environments aren’t empowered or supported to report or solve mistakes they make. 
  5. An emotionally unsupportive workplace can lead to feelings of loneliness and exclusion, which does not support someone to do their best work. 
  6. If the unsafe workplace has escalated to the point where an employee is dreading or afraid to go to work, it can cause them to develop anxiety, which is a serious health condition. 
  7. Employees with unsafe work environments can experience a deterioration of their overall quality of life. 
  8. It’s also possible that employees could experience sleep issues from the stress of dealing with an unsafe work environment. Lack of sleep impacts overall health, especially cognitive ability. 
  9. Overall job performance can be impacted by the stress an unsafe work environment can cause. 

What Does This Mean for Corporations?

If your corporation’s workplace culture is unsafe enough to start affecting employees’ mental health or aggravate existing mental health issues, then it is bleeding money and opportunity. Not only does an unsafe workplace foster a high turnover as employees emotionally and mentally burn out, but it keeps an organization from its true potential. However, this poses an opportunity for corporations to make changes that will have a dramatic impact on their employee’s quality of life. But that’s not the only opportunity here. 

Corporations have the opportunity to mine a proverbial gold mine of talent and innovation by changing their organization’s culture to prioritize psychological safety. While it may take an investment that includes painful change and evolution, in addition to financial resources, it has the potential to protect your organization’s competitive edge as well as its survival. Innovative thinking is essential for organizations in today’s world and business market. If your employees don’t feel safe speaking up, then not only is your organization vulnerable to failures, its competitive edge is dulled. Organizations have the opportunity to create an environment that supports innovative ideas and increased productivity by charting a course to greater psychological safety.

Support Mental Health with BioFunctional Health Solutions (BHS)

If you’re looking to leverage the connection between mental health and psychological safety, there’s no better way than with Wellness Challenges from us here at BHS. We customize a series of fun activities that encourage employee engagement as well as better health. The effects of these wellness challenges on your team’s mental health are twofold. One, showing your employees that you truly care about their physical and mental well-being will change your organization’s culture and increase a sense of safety. Two, mental and physical health are inextricably linked, so increasing physical health will support everyone’s mental well-being. Reach out to us today to get started.