In my practice and as Director of Psychology at Lyric Health, in my classrooms, I often explain to the students that we are in a psychologically safe space. I feel the need to tell them this because they usually do not answer my lecture questions for fear of giving the wrong answer and being embarrassed or feeling less intelligent or downright stupid.
Sometimes these feelings are engendered from the nervous laughter of other students or by the individuals(s) themselves, who are their worst critics. So, when students do not feel emotionally safe, the classroom can be claustrophobic and inhibitive.
It is no wonder that struggling students often feel alone and dysphoric or may even drop out of school. That is why there has been such an emphasis on educators, especially since the pandemic, to establish classrooms that teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and help develop students’ personal social and emotional development and psychological well-being through a safe and nurturing classroom experience. The result is a learning environment that brings out the best in students and teachers in that they can express themselves in a way that promotes learning but, most importantly, emotional well-being.
Given the initiatives that education departments have set for both learning and psychological well-being, it is interesting that this kind of approach has been slow to take hold in the workplace, especially given the effects of the pandemic on the physical and mental health of Americans. According to Sress.org Workspace (2023), numerous studies show that job stress is a significant source of overall stress for American adults. According to GITNUX Blog (A. Baruffati, January 17, 2023), 83%, the overwhelming majority, of US workers suffer from work-related stress, and 42% of employed workers say that their stress levels are currently high or very high.
The increased stress levels can derive from the perception of having little control over the demands of administrators or superiors and expectations and deadlines that must be met. These factors and others have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension, burnout, substance abuse, divorce, and other illnesses.
Recently I have been involved in a consulting project addressing workplace stress with various global firms and other workplaces. To their credit, the employers of these workplaces have recognized the incredible amount of work stress and how it not only hurts their employees’ mental and physical well-being but also leads to lower productivity, retention, and overall lower morale.
Their focus, of course, is establishing a psychologically safe workplace where the stigma of discussing mental health challenges and mental illness, personal and work-related, is recognized and eventually diminished or removed as much as possible. They are also addressing ways to reduce stress in the workplace by changing management practices. Finally, they are introducing health programs and wellness benefits that teach and encourage self-care at work and home. They hope to have an emotionally resilient workforce where their employees look forward to going to work every day and having a sense of happiness and contentment. Of course, for the employer, that means keeping a solid and competitive workforce, reducing sick days, defections, and attrition, and increasing profit margins due to steady productivity and stability.
It is my belief and a strong assertion that every company can benefit their employees and their financial bottom line and success by engaging in similar initiatives at the workplace. Since they often have new employees joining the industry right out of school, the initiatives would be a continuation of the groundwork of the psychologically safe space already established by educational institutions. This would have a positive and productive potentiation effect on the mental health of their new employees.
Lyric has been a leader in providing mental health resources and consultations to companies that share the vision of employee psychological and physical health. We stand ready to provide telemedicine and telepsychology services that will promote a healthier workspace. Whether are not you are one of our valued clients, you can get a jump start on some basic strategies to establish a psychologically safe space where your employees can thrive, and your company can grow; here are some things that you can do:
- Educate employees on the prevalence of stress and related mental health challenges at the workplace. This will go a long way in letting them know they are not alone or isolated in their professional, personal, and mental health struggles.
- Smash The Stigma of discussing mental health challenges or mental illness by encouraging employees to utilize their counseling and EAP services to boost their mental health and address mental health challenges.
- Train your workforce to recognizethe signs of someone in distress and teach them how to approach and assist a co-worker with empathy and respect.
- RESPOND by providing colleagues who are experiencing any issues or challenges with initial support and appropriate resources
- PROMOTE and create interactive workshops that constantly promote positive strategies to address work stress and workplace challenges
- ENGAGE in the company firm’s health and well-being programs or other appropriate resources
- ENCOURAGE employees to start and establish workplace support and social groups
- INITIATE reward and recognition programsthat acknowledge good employee behaviors regarding effort, initiative, and loyalty.
Finally, it comes down to the old saying that if you talk the talk, you better walk the walk. That involves employers and administrators being vulnerable about their own emotional and professional challenges but also exhibiting positive behaviors that can serve as a possible blueprint for their employees.
And, of course, reach out to or follow Lyric Health to learn more about counseling and wellness programs.