October is a month that the country shines a light on mental health education and depression awareness. October is ‘Depression and Mental Health Awareness Month’, and at Welty we feel it is important to take time this month to acknowledge how important good mental health is for workplace culture.
Those who face misunderstanding and harsh judgment in the workplace often struggle with mental health issues. That is why at Welty we foster a culture that aims to make employees feel psychologically safe.
Psychological safety has become a prevalent topic of conversation within high performing workplaces in recent years. In demanding fields such as construction, psychological safety procedures can go a long way towards maintaining morale among workers and can have a profound impact on their physical health as well.
Welty Building Company realizes that not all individuals have a clear idea of what constitutes psychological safety and the relevance that these practices can have for their industry. Here, Welty Building Company reviews the subject as well as why a commitment to psychological safety is crucial in the construction field.
What is Psychological Safety?
Psychological safety refers to the idea that employees will not be punished or humiliated when speaking up with questions, ideas, concerns, or mistakes that are examined in the workplace. Psychological safety defends the work force’s status, career, and self-image by encouraging a positive, communicative, and empathic environment that promotes transparency.
“Psychological safety is the practice of allowing somebody to ask for help or get clarification on exactly what is expected. It is a way for somebody to be human without trying to hide or prevent somebody else from knowing they are lacking the confidence to execute on the plan. When people feel supported and they get help from the team they perform at a much higher level,” said Don Taylor, President and CEO, Welty Building Company.
In psychologically safe circles, team members are treated as equals and can be assured that their thoughts and input are accepted and appreciated by others. Teams that can uphold psychologically safe practices are able to adapt to obstacles and prepare innovative solutions to issues on the job. One of the primary reasons for this is that employees are more willing to put their ideas out there, and potential mistakes can be addressed swiftly and efficiently.
Why is Psychological Safety Important?
“If somebody doesn’t know what is expected or has questions relative to the direction they have been given but doesn’t feel comfortable to go back and get clarification, you can assume that expectations will not be met, a client or customer will be disappointed, and a team’s performance will suffer. On the other hand, success with the client will be a much higher probability if you know exactly what is expected,” said Taylor.
The Relevance of Psychological Safety in the Construction Industry
“Our traditional business is construction and construction for the last 90 years has been dominated by military type leaders who could command and control from the top. This has led people to keep their head down not ask questions that will draw attention to them and has created a negative dynamic compared to the workforce of today that wants to function as a team and have much more collaboration. We are working hard to break the trend in our industry of command and control and pushing ownership in a voice to those on the front line doing the work,” said Taylor.
While all industries and workspaces have a place for psychological safety, physically demanding sectors that have the potential for injury are often where the ideology carries the most weight.
Welty Building Company reviews the realities of mental health, particularly in male-skewed industries, and finds that men are at a heightened risk of issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. There is a perceived stigma around speaking up and seeking help, and promoting empathic, psychologically safe environments can play a vital role in helping people feel supported.
Demanding fields like construction can also put pressure on workforces as they contend with project deadlines and potential work overload, which can serve as a leading cause of burnout. The freedom to speak with others about their own feelings and coping strategies for demanding work is another reason why psychological safe ideas are seeing such a huge boom in construction circles.
One of the biggest issues we deal with on psychological safety has less to do with capability than with capacity. Sometimes people are overloaded and have more things going on than they can possibly handle. Asking for clarification on which of the 10 things that have been asked is the most important so that their supervisor is engaged in prioritizing and understands in a capacity limiting issues,” said Taylor.
Welty Building Company notes that it is important to also recognize the intersect between psychological safety and physical safety. If standards are not being upheld or shortcuts are being made on the job that could endanger team members or building occupants or honest mistakes are made on a jobsite, knowing that the work environment empowers individuals to speak up can prevent disasters that could cause serious harm. In many ways, psychological safety is workplace safety.
How Can Employers Uphold Psychological Safety On-Site?
When exploring how employers can uphold psychological safety on construction sites, it is important to note that there are many resources out there that explain the makings of a positive work environment. Welty Building Company reviews many facets of positive, successful workspaces to implement them in their processes. Specifically, Welty maintains that encouraging employees to be transparent about their thoughts and feelings is a great start towards forging psychologically safe practices.
Largely it is the responsibility of employers to ensure that the environment they are building is a positive one. Recognizing the difference between playful ripping that is often seen as evidence of comradery in the trades and genuine attempts to dissuade others from sharing their thoughts and feelings is crucial.
Welty Building Company also acknowledges that attempts to promote psychological safe practices are nothing without the proper infrastructure in place to address questions, ideas, or concerns that may arise on the job. Certain issues need to be addressed and dealt with quickly, especially if they pertain to the safety and wellbeing of the team or future occupants of builds.
“The guest speaker we brought in for our annual meeting, Jay Hennessey, a former Navy seal, talked about how creating the right environment for people to ask for help and get clarification can significantly improve team performance. We are reinforcing this with our managers and have actually added it to our employee surveys to get feedback from our team on whether it is actually reaching them on the front lines in a positive way,” said Taylor
Experts speak to how looking out for the signs of a potentially psychologically unsafe environment can be key to improving outcomes for the sake of the workforce. A few examples of signs pointing to low psychological safety include infrequent feedback, avoidance of difficult conversations, tendency for employees to not own up to mistakes, blame shifting, lack of support among teams, and teams that do not feel comfortable asking one another for help. Administrators have the responsibility to notice these signs and take steps to improve comradery, empathy, and support within their job sites.
The Future of Psychological Safety
It has long since been proven that psychological safety has its place in construction and similar industries, but there are many ongoing conversations pertaining to the future of the ideology within the space.
Welty Building Company speaks to how addressing the stigma around mental health issues and developing infrastructure that supports speaking out when unsafe practices are noticed are things that we can expect companies large and small to invest in in the near future.