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Psychological Safety in the Workplace: Helping Employees Seek Support

It’s important for employers to provide support for their employees’ well-being, including both physical and mental health. While this support can be offered through a variety of benefits, it’s also important that employees feel empowered to access these benefits and safe when engaging their peers and leaders about health support or accommodations.

Speaking to a manager about a health concern, mental health challenge or substance abuse issue can be daunting for an employee. According to research from The Standard’s 2020 Behavioral Health Impact Update, there are often concerns about negative consequences such as workplace stigma, loss of opportunities or being fired.

With the stresses of the pandemic, the disruption of new hybrid work styles and a growing understanding that supporting the wellbeing of employees has positive business benefits, creating psychological safety in the workplace is more important than ever.

Only 45% of employees feel comfortable seeking employer help for mental health conditions.1

What Is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is the belief that an employee can speak up about any topic while knowing that the things they say or do won’t be used against them. Originally, psychological safety was focused on encouraging employees to safely share new business ideas, take risks and learn from mistakes. However, the term has now broadened to include creating a safe environment in which employees feel comfortable requesting support for needs such as workplace conflicts, work-life struggles and mental health or substance use issues.

28% of employees say their employers are doing better creating a work culture that fosters mental health since the start of the pandemic.1

Tips to Foster Psychological Safety

It’s important to note that psychological safety isn’t a one-time thing. It’s about creating an ongoing safe work climate and culture, and it requires effort and buy-in from management and employees. However, there are things you can do to get the ball rolling to increase psychological safety as an HR leader.2

  • Communicate about psychological safety: Talk about the goal of creating psychological safety at work. Communicating this goal can let employees know you’re there to help them.
  • Create safe spaces: Give employees opportunities to meet with you or their managers in situations where they can feel safe sharing sensitive or private information.
  • Train managers to model appropriate candor and vulnerability: Managers who approach employees with a mindset of humility and curiosity, appreciating individual differences and viewing conflicts as opportunities for collaboration can proactively encourage workers to disclose issues that might be impacting their performance.
  • Actively listen with empathy: Understand that when employees ask for help, they are making themselves vulnerable. Respond appropriately and understand how you can use your role to help them get the support they need.
  • Offer positive support: When possible, answer the employee’s vulnerability with positive support: for instance, helping them access appropriate benefits or discussing potential accommodations. Learn more about utilizing benefits to impact employee wellbeing in this episode of our benefits podcast, Last Thing Discussed.
  • Provide the right benefits: Having the right benefits partner and the relevant benefits in place for employees who request help is crucial. For example, consultants from The Standard's Workplace PossibilitiesSM program can help ease the burden on HR by working directly with employees and coordinating available benefits.3


To learn more about how to support employee behavioral health in the workplace, visit The Standard’s Behavioral Health Resource Center.


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