Psychological safety is the knowledge that you speak up, ask questions, or voice opinions to others at work, including your superiors, without fear of punishment or humiliation. Do you have it at your workplace?
Many organizations are struggling with this issue since the pandemic. In normal circumstances, managers are asked to be candid and forthcoming with their staff, creating that sense of safety. But during quarantine, all our normal boundaries got weird and blurry and we saw a lot of bits and pieces of our coworkers’ lives we otherwise wouldn’t have.
This issue is especially tricky—and especially important—as things start to go back to “normal.” And as an employee, you might have some very real concerns about returning to a physical workplace, even if it’s only a couple times a week. For instance, you or someone you care for may have a health issue that prevents vaccination. How can you make sure you’re not bringing anything home from unvaccinated colleagues? You may have discovered that your child learns better from home and be wondering how to navigate that. You might not have children and have felt uncomfortable with all those conversations about how lucky you are not to have to deal with those issues along with everything else, as though your challenges somehow matter less because you don’t have kids. Whatever the case, you may have some very good reasons for needing or wanting to stay virtual, and you may not feel you can disclose those to your boss or colleagues. Work-life balance discussions like these are central to new discussions people are increasingly needing to have in ways that might not feel very psychologically safe.
If you’re struggling with issues like these, you’re not alone. I suggest you start by approaching a trusted coworker or mentor and setting up a time for a conversation about things. If your work has an HR department, you may also have a conversation with someone there about your concerns. There is probably no easy answer, but starting these discussions, and asking for advice from trusted people can be helpful. If you have a trustworthy manager, you can also share this article from Harvard Business Review to get the decision-makers in your organization thinking about the topic. Getting the conversation started won’t answer all your concerns, but it’s valuable information to put out there, and it’s a place to start.