For civil servants and advisory organisations who support them, change is an acknowledged and essential part of attempts to modernise, improve and transform government services. Evidence shows, however, that periods of change can cause volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that lead to stress and even burnout for the individuals and teams involved.

Recent Health & Safety Executive (HSE) research also shows that public administration, as an industry sector, experiences significantly higher rates of work-related stress than the average for all industries, with a lack of support and interpersonal relationships listed amongst the most prevalent causes of work-related stress. This impact has been compounded by the coronavirus crisis, which has led to significant disruption in how services can be delivered and are able to respond.

In a sector that employs just over 500,000 people in the UK and often provides critical delivery of government services, the ability to provide a safe and supported environment for staff to operate in demanding circumstances is vital. Creating the circumstances for high levels of psychological safety is a concrete step senior leaders can take to create sustainable healthy high performance at work.

What is psychological safety at work?

Psychological safety is about creating the conditions for sustainable and healthy high performance in teams. It is not simply about freedom from conflict, being nice, or permission to work without pressure and stretch goals.

Psychological safety is about creating a team culture where people feel safe to take interpersonal risk by speaking up, sharing ideas, innovating, challenging convention, and asking questions secure in the knowledge that their voice is valid and their contribution welcome.

Based on 30 years of academic research, psychologically safe workplaces:

  • Value problem solving;
  • Embrace outliers in data as a point of curious inquiry;
  • Welcome honesty in the knowledge that to only ever accept good news, creates fear around truth;
  • Fosters hierarchy with humility, where leaders are comfortable with their own fallibility.

Evidence shows that psychologically safe organisations retain staff, reduce absenteeism, increase accountability, mitigate errors and mistakes, stimulate creativity and achieve their goals.

Helping Government departments and advisors to create healthy high performance at work

When The Department for Education and the Government Legal Department sought to assess and respond to the impact of the COVID lockdown on their combined 10,000 staff here in the UK, Fearless Facilitator founder Rachel Cashman delivered expert-led workshops on psychological safety, change and burnout to support healthy, high performance team working in a VUCA environment.

For Triad Strategies, a US-based government advisory consultancy, we applied a two-pronged approach to introduce and embed the principles of psychological safety into their workplace culture:

A research-led assessment of the organisational alignment of staff with each other and with their strategy was completed using Mirror Mirror™, an accredited diagnostic measurement tool and process that identifies and measures alignment gaps and allows those gaps to be addressed safely and constructively. The rigour of our research-based approach helps people align to the vision and strategy of their organisation . You can read more about Mirror Mirror™ here.

Workshops developed through Fearless Facilitator founder Rachel’s previous collaborations with Amy Edmonson, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School and author of ‘The Fearless Organisation’, highlighted how “intelligent failure” is an opportunity to create a “learning zone” where trying new things (and sometimes failing) becomes a “first attempt in learning”, not a cause for shame or punishment.

It’s more important than ever for organisations and employees adjusting to a post-pandemic workplace to foster psychological safety, especially as more and more people are now working from home and working remotely often blurs the lines between an employee’s personal and professional life.

At the Fearless Facilitator we can help you evaluate and establish the systems and processes you can put in place to assess and mitigate psychosocial risk at work and support you to achieve a culture of supported accountability, compassionate candour and high performance.

Contact us to find out how we can help you build more confident, resilient, united and high-performing teams