Stress and Psychological Safety Don’t Mix

Stress can have a negative impact on our ability to stay psychologically safe. When individuals are under stress, they may be more likely to become defensive, less patient, and less tolerant of others’ opinions, which can lead to a breakdown in communication and trust within a team.

Stress can also affect cognitive function and decision-making, which can make it more difficult for individuals to think clearly and react appropriately in a stressful situation. This can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts, which can further exacerbate stress levels and create a negative spiral.

Stress can also affect our ability to think positively, which can make it difficult to see the good in others or find solutions to problems. Stress can cause individuals to become more focused on their own problems and to feel less able to empathize with others. This can make it more difficult to create a sense of trust and respect within a team.

In addition, stress can also contribute to the development of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, which can further negatively impact on psychological safety. People struggling with these conditions may have a harder time connecting with others, may feel less motivated, and may be more prone to feelings of isolation and self-doubt which can further limit their ability to share and to risk.

It’s important to keep in mind that stress is a normal part of life, but when it becomes chronic (staying in a continuously stressed state over time), it can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. It’s important for individuals and teams to develop strategies to manage stress, such as regular exercise, mindfulness practices, healthy eating and relaxation techniques.

Organizations can also support the psychological safety of their employees by addressing the following areas:

  1. Stopping demanding they work long hours (research has shown that an excess of 50hrs per week significantly impacts productivity by as much as 30%).
  2. Managing workloads so that all employees feel they have successfully contributed to the success of their team and the organisation on a daily basis.
  3. Removing onerous processes and systems that detract from an employee’s ability to do what they were hired to do.
  4. Ensuring all leaders are upskilled in psychological safety, its approach and the behaviours that lead to them creating that safe environment around them.

Once an organisation has put those points in place should it think of implementing stress-management programs, providing access to mental health services, and promoting a culture that prioritizes the well-being of its employees?

How does your organisation manage the stress levels of its employees, is it doing everything it can to minimise those levels? Does it foster a psychologically safe environment for everyone to thrive in?

If not, maybe it’s time to consider a change to what has always been done.