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How Psychological Safety Can Create a Happier, More Resilient Workforce

When team members feel psychologically safe and comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, they are empowered to come up with creative solutions to problems, find new ways to collaborate and communicate. 
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While more people are dining out and business and leisure travel is picking up, staffing shortages remain one of the major post-pandemic challenges across the hospitality industry. Beyond higher salaries and better benefits, company culture has become a key factor for job candidates across industries. Particularly during these uncertain times, creating a work environment that fosters psychological safety and builds trust is one of the most effective ways to counter the Great Resignation impacting the hospitality industry, attract top talent and keep current employees engaged and productive. 

What is psychological safety? 

Psychological safety is a shared belief among employees that they can speak up, raise concerns, offer ideas, voice an opinion, admit mistakes and ask for help without facing negative consequences. 

A psychologically safe workplace can have long-term benefits to hotel and restaurant operators, reducing employee turnover, boosting team performance and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. When team members feel psychologically safe and comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, they are empowered to come up with creative solutions to problems, find new ways to collaborate and communicate with managers and coworkers – all qualities that can also improve customer service and help ensure positive guest experiences. 

On the other hand, a lack of psychological safety can take its toll on employees’ mental and physical health, resulting in chronic stress that can cause staff to leave and take their talents and experiences with them. A recent Traliant survey of 2,000 full-time U.S. employees revealed that 21.6% of respondents don’t feel their workplace promotes psychological safety, and 50.8% said that their work environment promotes burnout. 

Building trust and a sense of belonging are other key components in creating psychological safety. Employees who trust their organization and feel they are appreciated and valued as individuals are more likely to work overtime, stick it out in uncertain times and advocate for their company, Traliant’s survey found. 

Speak-up culture 

Psychological safety is also one of the building blocks of a speak-up culture, where employees are encouraged to speak up and report incidents of sexual harassment and other misconduct, without fear of retaliation. Retaliation can take many forms, including being fired or demoted, reassigned job duties, threats, verbal abuse and other hostile actions.

For a speak-up culture to be effective, employees have to believe that their complaints will be taken seriously and investigated, whether the misconduct involves a coworker, manager or executive. 

Managers should lead the way 

Creating psychological safety and building trust is not a check-the-box activity. It’s an ongoing process that starts at the top. When managers own up to their mistakes, shortcomings and limitations they demonstrate to their team members that it’s safe for everyone to do the same. Managers should proactively encourage employees to say what’s on their mind and then listen with a positive attitude, which helps individuals feel more comfortable sharing their challenges. 

Addressing and supporting mental health and wellbeing — ongoing issues facing employees in the hospitality sector — is another way to foster psychological safety. HR leaders can ensure there are different opportunities for employees to learn and raise questions about stress, depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol misuse and other mental health issues. Hospitality organizations can also offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) which provide a range of services that help employees with personal and work-related problems, including mental health issues. 

Measure progress 

It’s important to measure progress, too. Employee surveys, an anonymous online suggestion box and checking in regularly with team members are proactive steps to identify concerns, misunderstandings and potential problems, as well as improvements. For managers, it’s critical to respond promptly to employee concerns and close the feedback loop so they know they are being heard. 

Starting with the onboarding process, HR leaders and managers should consider different options to train and educate employees on psychological safety, cultural competence, DEI, bystander intervention and other relevant topics that teach positive behaviors, build trust and inspire team members to bring their authentic selves to work and embrace a hospitality mindset. 

About the Author

Maggie Smith, PHR, SHRM-CP, is the Vice President of Human Resources at Traliant, an innovator in online compliance training. During her more than 20 years’ experience, she has developed, implemented and led proactive HR programs for complex, multi-site, organizations undergoing rapid growth.

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