Given the integral role that psychologically safe leadership styles play within healthy work environments, it may be helpful to consider the various ways in which the Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment can be utilized across the employment cycle, including: Recruiting and Hiring; Orientation and Training; Evaluation, Performance Management, Discipline, and Promotion; Intervention and Crisis Response; Accommodation and Return to Work (RTW); and Redeployment and Termination.
Unique Considerations for Each Phase of the Job Cycle
Recruiting and Hiring
- Define "psychologically safe leadership" for all new recruits
- Emphasize its importance and specifically how it is evaluated and upheld
- Establish that no negligent, reckless, or intentional injury to employees' mental health is acceptable
- Establish consequences for violations
- Think beyond pure technical qualifications when recruiting/hiring – social/emotional skills of applicants, potential for complying with Psychologically Safe Leadership policy, etc.
- Ensure the hiring process includes consideration of the Psychologically Safe Leadership skills of interviewees
- Survey recent hires about the recruiting/hiring process
- Broad annual review of recruitment/hiring practices, analysis of outcomes
The hiring procedure is the first impression of your organization and its leadership – what it's like to work with you, how your organization values its employees, and the workplace culture they can expect. You can help ensure that principles of psychologically safe leadership (PSL) are incorporated and upheld in your organization by establishing the importance of PSL immediately at the recruitment and hiring phase. One way to do this is to include elements of PSL in recruitment and hiring materials/policies – define what a psychologically safe leader is for all new recruits, as well as how this standard is upheld and enforced in your organization. You can also consider how new recruits fit in your organization beyond technical qualifications (e.g., their emotional intelligence (EI), likelihood of complying with PSL-related policies, etc.). For example, job descriptions that list attributes such as high EI as desirable qualities in an applicant will attract recruits who are more likely to adhere to the principles of PSL. EI has been found to be related to better job performance as well as job satisfaction (Wong & Law, 2002) – a win-win for you and your employees.
It's also important to assess the PSL skills of new leaders, both during the hiring process (e.g., while interviewing) and after hiring. Consideration of PSL skills of candidates signals to them that your organization values the psychological health and well-being of its employees. Following up with new recruits about how they are adjusting to their new role can provide valuable insight into the efficacy of recruiting and hiring practices. By reviewing hiring practices, as well as the job-fit of new employees, you and your organization can evaluate both effective and ineffective practices, and make the necessary changes to improve the recruitment and hiring process.
Orientation and Training
- Require that conductors of training sessions introduce recruits/hires to Psychologically Safe Leadership and related resources and how to access them
- Require that organizational values around Psychologically Safe Leadership be embedded in training approaches
- Consider how training experiences (or lack thereof) can impact Psychologically Safe Leadership
- Monitor training procedures to ensure they account for all mental health aspects of the job, especially in relation to changes in organizational values and supports
- Enforce a management development process that includes training in Psychologically Safe Leadership, and interpersonal, and mentoring skills
- Schedule reviews of training approaches for impact on behaviour of trainees/others, as well as outcomes
- Follow up with trainees about training needs/gaps
Psychologically Safe Leadership (PSL) can be incorporated into the orientation and training period by taking time during training sessions to introduce new recruits to resources – what they are, how to access them, and how they can be applied on the job. Having new recruits review the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) is another way to introduce new hires to the principles of PSL. By incorporating these principles into company policy and training protocols, you can set the stage for the development of a psychologically safe workplace with mindful employees who value PSL as much as you do.
PSL can also be incorporated into management development via training sessions that include training in PSL skills, as well as interpersonal and mentorship skills. In this way, both new and current leaders can be introduced to the concept of PSL and learn strategies for how to implement/promote PSL in their own work and within their own teams. Managers who receive mental health awareness training are more sensitive to the needs and well-being of their teams. One study showed that managers who completed such training saw a 25 per cent decline in mental health disability costs and a shorter duration of long-term disability claims (Dimoff, Kelloway, & Burnstein, 2016).
It's also important to consider ways to incorporate PSL into job placement and role transition procedures. For example, requiring that leaders follow up with employees on challenges or issues that may arise with their job placement and possible gaps/flaws in the training they have received can help employees adjust to their new roles and minimize potential problems down the road.
Evaluation, Performance Management, Discipline, and Promotion
- Require leaders to express their understanding and commitment to Psychologically Safe Leadership - Strategically support Psychologically Safe Leadership via evaluation, discipline, and promotion decisions
- Engage leaders in developing solutions that allow them to accomplish assigned tasks while practicing Psychologically Safe Leadership
- Work to resolve workplace issues promptly and in a sustainable manner - Assess productivity by measuring outcomes rather than outputs (i.e., results, not hours logged)
- Consider outside influences on performance changes – e.g., economic, family, community, and organizational pressures
- Evaluate management and evaluation processes to determine if they result in desired outcomes.
- If not, consider implementing alternative methods
After establishing the importance of PSL during the hiring and training periods, it's important to ensure that this focus carries on through managers' day-to-day performance. By “walking the talk” regarding organizational values (i.e., adhering to standards of PH&S in their own performance/work), they can model behaviour that values the psychological well-being of others in the workplace. Ongoing review of the Standard, in addition to requiring employees to express their continued understanding of and commitment to PSL, during review periods is one way to embed PSL in the organizational culture.
Being mindful of employees' psychological well-being and ability to cope with their current workload is one of the best ways to model the prioritization of PSL in your workplace. Requiring managers to monitor employees' performance in terms of productivity or output, rather than simply the number of logged hours, allows for a more accurate gauge of work performance, and may indicate whether employees are managing their tasks well or struggling to complete or keep up with them. This can also indicate whether there are any unanticipated external pressures affecting an employee's performance. For example, an employee's productivity may begin to suffer as a result of a private family crisis. Alternatively, a behind-the-scenes workplace conflict might be the cause of a decline in employees' performance. In order to avoid a negative impact on employees' psychological well-being and work performance, workplace issues should be addressed as soon as possible in a manner that respects and protects all parties involved.
In terms of workload, ensuring that leaders work with their employees to develop a plan to complete assigned tasks can help them better manage their commitments, as well as reduce work pressures and stress. It is also valuable to assess management procedures directed at evaluation and performance management to determine if management practices are producing positive outcomes in employee performance; if not, a change may be necessary. Pilot testing new methods may lead to a better alternative to ensure that employees are being fairly and productively evaluated.
Intervention and Crisis Response
- Define clear standards of response in the event of crisis
- Crisis response procedures must account for those with mental health concerns and vulnerabilities, as well as consider the psychological impact of a crisis on all employees
- Outline procedures for proactive crisis prevention
- Promptly follow crisis response procedures to assist affected employees
- Select EAP programs relevant to the organization
- Ensure incidents of intervention/crisis response are kept confidential when possible, but not at the expense of other employees
- Review efficacy of programs and relevance to unique needs for employees/work environment
Crisis intervention and response procedures are a critical aspect of Psychologically Safe Leadership (PSL). In order to ensure the mental well-being of employees in the case of a crisis, it is essential that managers have clear standards and procedures in place. For example, clear step-by-step procedures should be readily available in case of a natural disaster or an incident of workplace violence (e.g., one person assigned to call 911, predetermined evacuation routes and meeting places, etc.), as well as regular drills to practice these procedures.
When creating and reviewing these crisis response procedures, it is important to consider their impact on employees with mental health concerns and vulnerabilities. Are procedures designed with employees' psychological well-being in mind (i.e., ensuring that response procedures are as calm and organized as possible, thus limiting the impact of trauma experienced by employees)? The psychological well-being of employees after a crisis should also be considered – managers must be knowledgeable of the resources and support systems in place and be prepared to follow-up with employees and assess for any signs of lingering distress.
Crisis prevention is just as important as crisis intervention and response. Regularly monitoring the workplace for possible risks, ensuring that the building complies with and possibly exceeds safety standards (e.g., in case of a fire or an earthquake), as well as monitoring the psychological health and well-being of employees can stop crises before they begin – or at least help minimize their damage.
Accommodation and Return to Work (RTW)
- Ensure that procedures are designed in accordance with human rights legislation
- Outline accommodation opportunities that address issues in communication, feedback, directions, relationships, triggers, and stressors in the workplace
- Consider policy for a refresher/new training for anyone who has been away for 2 months or more, or during a time of change in processes or procedures - Proactively prevent/remove barriers to work-related psychological safety and support systems
- Accommodation process should engage the employee to be involved with finding solutions that enable success
- RTW process must include consideration of psychological impacts for all injuries and illnesses (even physical)
- Arrange regular follow-ups on returning employees for at least 6 months post-return
- Arrange at least annual follow-ups for employee accommodations to ensure they are still the most effective
- Review annually against changes to human rights legislation and for effectiveness from the perspectives of employee and supervisor
Psychologically Safe Leadership (PSL) must also be incorporated into accommodation and return to work (RTW) procedures. For starters, it's essential to ensure that these procedures are designed in accordance with human rights legislation and the Standard. When developing and/or updating these procedures, considering ways that accommodations can address issues with communication, relationships, triggers, and stressors in the workplace can help ensure that employees' psychological well-being is taken into consideration. Any changes or updates in procedure should be followed up with training sessions to keep managers up-to-date on current accommodation and RTW policies. A policy should be considered for employees who have been away from work for a substantive absence wherein they are required to pass a quick ‘refresher' course to ensure that they are aware of the accommodations and RTW supports available to them.
For employees receiving accommodations or participating in RTW procedures, managers should be prepared to consider how the employees' reintegration to the workplace and their accommodations might impact other employees and the workplace as a whole. For example, an employee with a recent mobility impairment (e.g., requiring a wheelchair) may require some changes in the layout of the workplace, which will inevitably affect their coworkers. It is necessary to navigate these issues with sensitivity to both the employee returning to work, as well as their coworkers whose work environments/schedules/etc. may undergo significant changes to accommodate them. This type of accommodation process should also directly involve the employee returning to work; they are likely to know what supports they require, and thus including them in this process is the best way to ensure a successful re-integration into the workplace (St-Arnaud, Briand, & Corbière, 2014). Similarly, access to support systems and a supportive manager who engages in PSL can help employees thrive after returning to work. This applies to both physical and psychological causes of work absences; both causes can have a significant psychological impact on an employee, which should be taken into consideration when employees are returning to work.
It is also essential that leaders follow up with returning employees after the standard RTW procedures have been completed. Regular follow-ups with employees after they have returned ensures that the accommodations they received continue to meet their needs, and help them succeed at work. If accommodations appear to be insufficient, construction of a new accommodations plan with the employee may be necessary.
Redeployment and Termination
- Mandate leaders to be physically present and communicate effectively in a psychologically safe manner during times of layoff or redeployment
- Outline a commitment to exploring benefits/resources for those who are losing jobs
- Outline specific procedures/training programs for those executing organizational change and/or termination
- Consider the psychological impact on "survivors" of downsizing, layoffs, or redeployments
- Consider related psychological impact of job insecurity, lack of role clarity, competition and collaboration with/ newcomers/replacements, changing expectations/values
- Maintain up-to-date list of, and access to, resources to support employees dealing with emotional fallout
- Solicit feedback from those who are let go (exit interviews) and those left behind about the perception of the company response to layoff/redeployment with a specific eye to Psychologically Safe Leadership
- Consider feedback and prepare for future re-occurrences
Redeployment and termination can be a difficult stage of the job cycle for all involved parties. Supporting the psychological health and well-being of employees throughout this process is critical, and managers can play a key role in providing this support. During this phase, clear communication, as well as the accessibility and presence of leaders, prevents employees from feeling “in the dark” about upcoming changes and allows them to plan accordingly, reducing the stress and uncertainty of potential job loss or relocation. Making a commitment to work with them to find resources and benefits for terminated employees can greatly reduce the burden placed on them.
Terminated employees are not the only ones affected by downsizing, layoffs, and/or redeployment – managers should be prepared to consider that employees who remain are also put under considerable stress. For instance, remaining employees may experience doubts about their own job stability, guilt over keeping their jobs while coworkers are losing theirs, worries about their place in the new organizational structure, competition and/or collaboration with new employees, fears of changing workplace expectations and values, etc. Managers who aware of these potential concerns and addressing them when they arise will be better able to put employees at ease and help to ensure a smoother transition. As with terminated employees, providing remaining employees with access to support resources will also help them adjust to these changes.
Requiring that managers follow up with employees – via exit interviews for those being terminated and feedback sessions for those remaining – about their perception of how the organization handled the layoff or redeployment procedure can provide valuable insight into how this process has impacted your employees, and how changes can be made to ensure a smoother transition for all parties in the future.