To achieve flow, you have to feel free to be yourself

15 Oct 2020 By Advertising feature

Many employees feel unable to show their true selves at work, and employers lose out as a result, says Guido Heezen – but organisations that invest in psychological safety will be rewarded with more engaged staff

In this era of home working and video meetings, we're revealing more of our authentic selves than ever before. Colleagues who previously wore only sharply pressed suits now appear in front of the camera in t-shirts. Pets and family members sometimes wander into view.

Before the coronavirus crisis, things were very different – employees shrugged off their identity as soon as they walked through the office door, either virtually or physically. They put on their ‘work hat’ and became focused on their role. That's not so bad, you might think. People are at work, after all. But you'd be mistaken.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety means feeling that you have the psychological freedom to do your job well. Alongside feeling free to be yourself, psychological safety is also about the extent to which a person feels able to take interpersonal risks without being afraid of the potential negative consequences. This might include giving honest feedback, admitting your mistakes or generating new ideas. These are all things that can have a negative effect on your career.

Why is it important for engagement?

Psychological safety and engagement are closely related. If you feel comfortable, you concentrate better. And if you feel safe enough to be yourself, you put more of yourself into your work and have the confidence to showcase more of your talents. It’s not surprising that research from Utrecht University shows that a sense of authenticity at work is linked to greater engagement. Employees who feel able to be themselves perform better. The Effectory benchmark also establishes a link between feeling able to be yourself, feeling safe and engagement.

In a psychologically safe team, employees do not need to worry about their status within the team. Instead, they can focus on their work. They also have more breathing space to generate ideas. Meta analyses from our employee surveys over the years show that a pleasant working atmosphere results in greater engagement.

Simplified model from Authenticity at work – a job-demands resources perspective by Effectory employee and psychological researcher at Utrecht University, Baran Metin

How can businesses increase psychological safety?

How can firms make employees feel they are good enough just as they are? It starts with judging people based purely on their work – this makes it clear that it doesn't matter who they are. In addition, organisations should take on people from a diverse range of backgrounds and have them work together. If immediate colleagues are different but no less capable, the culture will become less narrow minded.

Show another side to yourself

Businesses should actively encourage employees to show their true selves more. We organise a 'Big Day' every year for this reason. One of the events was about being creative, with poetry, singing and a lot of applause. The employees who were brave enough to show an unexpected side to themselves clearly benefited. They felt more seen and more appreciated, not only as colleagues but also as human beings.

Businesses could also consider organising themed meetings on specific topics – for example, lectures about being an unofficial caregiver or psychological vulnerabilities. This might just give employees that push to be more open about aspects of their lives that they don't currently feel able to share. And once they've vocalised their situation, they will no longer need to hide parts of themselves.

Guido Heezen is a director at Effectory

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