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The Link Between Safety, Inclusion, Happiness And Productivity Is Real

Image of two co-workers sitting on stairs reviewing notes from books

When employees feel included, welcomed and psychologically safe, they feel happy, and when they’re happy, they’re more productive.

In 2019, Oxford University and BT, a UK Telecom company, conducted research that provided the first casual field evidence linking happiness and productivity. They found that workers are 13% more productive when they’re happy.

Employee well-being and happiness are directly affected by feelings of safety, inclusion and belonging.

When employees don’t feel physically and psychologically safe, welcomed and included in their workplace, it not only undermines feelings of happiness, it can negatively affect their health. In a recent study I worked on with CSA we found that employees who reported low inclusion levels lost more time from work due to sickness and disability. 

It’s natural for employees to have off days, and it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to be happy, focused, and motivated 100% of the time. However, it is important to pay attention to the extent that employees are having “off days” and to create conditions where employees feel respected and cared for and can work to their full potential.

People must feel safe to speak up and share their thoughts and opinions without fear of retribution, judgment, or other consequences that could negatively impact their sense of well-being.

Amy Edmondson suggests that psychological safety and inclusion are required in the design of workplace cultures to create conditions for allowing uncertainty and fear to bubble up for discussion, accountability, and learning. These factors build equitable, engaging, and safe cultures that help employees thrive regardless of age, sexual orientation, or skin colour.

Positive steps can you take as a leader

  • Commit to being a psychologically safe leader. This is the obvious first step. However, there is no end point; this is an onoing journey. You must continually build your knowledge, skills, and habits to positively influence your employees’ sense of safety, belonging, inclusion and engagement. 

  • Never assume your programs are having the desired impact. Applying a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach is critical to success. A CSA study found that employers who planned and instituted programs and policies to positively impact employees’ emotional well-being primarily focused on “Planning” and “Doing,” but were not “Checking” to see if what was being done was working. 

  • Don’t just spread information. Aim to build habits that foster inclusivity – Don’t assume that inclusion-focused training, policies and programs are creating the habits required to support a psychologically safe and inclusive workplace. Information is useless if it does not create the habits that address implicit bias, racism, and oppression and prevent employees from feeling included. Build evaluation programs that assess the degree to which inclusive and safe behaviour is being habitualized. 

  • Take stock of and modify bad habits. Not all habits are useful some can erode trust. Assessments like the Perception of Workplace Inclusion Quick Survey can help you get a snapshot of feelings of inclusion in your workplace. Be open to feedback and ready to address behaviours and habits that are undermining your efforts. Better to know how your employees feel and act on their feedback, than to have them remain silent for fear of retribution or because they don’t trust that any change will come from speaking up.

  • Respect different opinions, concerns and points of view. Take time to consider your employees’ point of view, in general, and in particular situations that are raising concerns or stress. Consider how they are acting and what they are telling you? Conversely, consider whether your behaviour and the behaviour of  other leaders is helping to create an inclusive culture. Be careful of conscious and unconscious biases and your willingness to engage and see situations from all sides. 

  • Evaluate and adjust as needed. Tools such as a the WSPS Mental Harm Prevention Roadmapcan help you obtain a baseline on psychological safety for the purposes of planning and improving your programs and policies.

There is no goal line with psychological safety and inclusion. It requires focus, intention, learning, accountability, and measurement to have an impact. But with the right efforts, you can create a culture that draws people in, makes them feel safe to be themselves, and happy to be part of the organization.

Get to know the author – Bill Howatt