The R3 Continuum Playbook: How Can Your Organization Cultivate a Psychologically Safe Workplace?
Dr. George Vergolias, R3 Continuum Medical Director, provides insight for leaders to help them determine what a psychologically safe workplace looks like for their organization. Dr. Vergolias describes crucial factors to consider when navigating the process of bringing more psychological safety to the work environment.
The full webinar can be found here.
The R3 Continuum Playbook is presented by R3 Continuum and is produced by the Minneapolis-St.Paul Studio of Business RadioX®. R3 Continuum is the underwriter of Workplace MVP, the show which celebrates heroes in the workplace.
Intro: [00:00:00] Broadcasting from the Business RadioX Studios, here is your R3 Continuum Playbook. Brought to you by Workplace MVP’s sponsor R3 Continuum, a global leader in workplace behavioral health, crisis, and security solutions.
Shane McNally: [00:00:15] Hi, there. My name is Shane McNally, Digital Marketing Project Lead at R3 Continuum. On this episode of The R3 Continuum Playbook, we’ll be featuring a segment from a recent webinar presented by R3 Continuum Medical Director, Dr. George Vergolias. This webinar was titled How Can Your Organization Cultivate a Psychologically Safe Workplace?
Shane McNally: [00:00:33] Dr. Vergolias has over 20 years of experience as a forensic psychologist and certified threat manager and has assessed over 1000 cases related to threat of violence or self-harm, sexual assault, stalking, and communicated threats. In this short segment from his webinar, Dr. Vergolias offers his expert insight into psychological safety and what makes a psychologically safe workplace, and how leaders can create that sort of environment for their employees.
George Vergolias: [00:01:02] Now, I want to pivot and talk a little bit about solutions and ways to think about how do we foster psychologically safe workplaces. So, first I want to define that, right? I really believe the Center for Creative Leadership is really a good – they have a really good, useful definition that’s approachable and it hits home and it can translate to practical applications. Right?
George Vergolias: [00:01:32] So, what they define is a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject or punish you for speaking up. Now, what’s key here is, this doesn’t mean that you get to say whatever you want. It doesn’t mean that any individual’s viewpoint is automatically accepted. Right? And it doesn’t mean we’re nice all the time. I think just sometimes there’s a false narrative that psychological safety means no one will ever say anything that will upset you, right? No.
George Vergolias: [00:02:10] Let me say it this way. No one has a right to not be offended on the one hand. There’s going to be interactions in our lives, personal and in the workplace, that might annoy us or offend us or rub us wrong. What this means is that we are embracing that conflict and we feel that we have a platform, an engagement level, a dialogue by which we can work through those disagreements and conflicts in a productive way so that the group moves forward so that the group is better off for it as a result of that process. And that process isn’t always fine. Conflict is sometimes difficult. That’s why many of us avoid it.
George Vergolias: [00:02:52] So, it’s important to keep in mind that pragmatic definition, because what I feel is there is a real risk of organizations having kind of a hyperbolic reaction in either of the extremes. One extreme is we have to absolutely accept everything everybody says, and we can’t say anything that might be challenging or even remotely perceived as offensive. Right? That’s fraught with its own problems.
George Vergolias: [00:03:24] And the other is where we’re totally tone deaf to the realities, that there are issues that need to be navigated. There are issues whether they’re diversity, equity and inclusion issues, or other issues that we need to talk through and work through and do the difficult work ahead. So food for thought.
George Vergolias: [00:03:43] What they also identify are four stages of types of safety. And the first is inclusion safety, and that satisfies the basic human need to belong. So in this stage, what we’re looking at is we feel safe to be oneself and you’re accepted for who you are, including your unique attributes and defining characteristics. Right? Again, there are limits to this, right?
George Vergolias: [00:04:08] Typically what we mean here is someone can be free. Whether it’s sexual identity, racial identity, other types of identity, they can feel free to express that in a way that they can live their fullest life and not be falsely judged or negatively impacted by that. Right?
George Vergolias: [00:04:27] There are laws that somewhat protect that. And there’s been a big move through corporate America to try to adopt that. That doesn’t mean that if I – I’m going to use an extreme example here. If I identify with neo-Nazism that I have a right to bring that insignia into the workplace because it’s very threatening to other people. So there are limits that organizations will have to determine where they draw those lines. But that’s what we mean by inclusion safety.
George Vergolias: [00:05:00] Next stage is learner safety. What we mean here is, this satisfies the need to learn and grow. And when we feel this, we feel safe to exchange ideas, take risks, put an opinion out there in a way, ask questions, give and receive feedback in a way that isn’t always comfortable, because, again, that’s not the goal, but in a way that we feel safe to do so. We could take those risks in a way that we feel that it is a growth experience, not a stunting or traumatizing or shaming experience.
George Vergolias: [00:05:35] Third stage is contributor safety. So here, what we’re satisfying or the need satisfies the need to make a difference. We feel like we have agency. We can make a difference. We can have an impact. We have relevance in our role, in our job, in our teams, and in our organizations, right, to the degree that we’re gonna use our skills and abilities to do that.
George Vergolias: [00:05:56] And then lastly, challenger safety. What we mean by challenger safety, this satisfies the need to make things better. How do we challenge the status quo in a way that we can grow as individuals but also as teams and as organizations, right? And how do you take up that challenge in a way that is promotional for whatever the values of the team or the organization have behind them?
George Vergolias: [00:06:21] Now, these sound great. They’re very well thought through. Practically, how do we implement them? That’s the big challenge, I think, facing us. Where do we draw those lines, right? A recent one, where do I as a leader, as if this was up to me, but where do I as a leader draw the line between somebody that has a loved one at home that’s immunosuppressed and wants everyone to still wear masks at the workplace and other people that feel like they’ve done everything they possibly can include getting vaccinated and have asthma and find that wearing masks is difficult, not necessarily life-threatening, but really difficult for them? Where do we draw the line between that, right? These are difficult sometimes issues to answer. And we’re going to have to navigate those as we go forward.
Shane McNally: [00:07:15] Hey, George, just going back one side here. I do have a question. You mentioned it’s difficult to implement this. And I was just curious, you know, if you’re an organization that’s been around for a very long time, you’ve got employees that have been there 20, 30, 40 years, I don’t know, they’ve been there for a very long time and say you’re looking at these steps and you’re like, we don’t really have anything like this. Is this something that they should start implementing now, or do you think that these employees that have been there for so long might, you know, it might be something that’s frowned upon?
George Vergolias: [00:07:48] So, it’s a great question. I do think there is something to be said about the longer that we engage in habits, the longer that we engage in a pattern, whether it’s self-imposed or it just was the status quo that we came up with. There is something to be said about it. Yes, it can be more difficult to change. But what I constantly push back when I hear that and I hear that a lot, Shane, from organizational leaders that I consult with on resilience and workplace turnaround and all kinds of things is that every one of us has made those changes. Every one of us has made those changes, right?
George Vergolias: [00:08:23] There are people – there’s a dear friend of mine right now that’s going – just went through a liver transplant. He wasn’t an alcoholic by any means. And that wasn’t why – he had a blood issue, a blood disorder issue going on, and he needed a new liver. But he certainly enjoyed having a few beers back then. Guess what? He’s done drinking. He’s done drinking for the rest of his life, right? Now, it’s easy to say, “Well, that was life or death.” Trust me, I used to do transplant candidacy evaluations. There are a lot of people that can’t make that change or don’t want to, right?
George Vergolias: [00:08:52] Someone has a heart attack at age 50 or 55 or 60, and they totally redo their diet and their workout regimen. Somebody goes through marital counseling and completely reorients their approach to their spouse after 15 years of a volatile marriage. We, as human animals, change all the time. And so, what I don’t accept, I will accept that it’s difficult, but I won’t accept that it’s impossible.
George Vergolias: [00:09:15] And what the key then is for those leaders to do is to really figure out how do we promote the culture of change. How do we give people every chance to make that change and embrace it? And then those that are going to absolutely hold out against it at some point, maybe they’re no longer a good fit for the organization. And those are tough choices for sure, Shane, definitely. But that’s how I would think about that.
Shane McNally: [00:09:41] Awesome. Thank you.
George Vergolias: [00:09:42] Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I’m glad you asked that because that segues to my next slide. A big part of this also has to do with hope, right? As leaders, if you’re going to say to somebody, “Hey, we’re going to go into that wilderness. And although we know a little bit of that wilderness, we don’t totally know that wilderness and that’s new for you. You’ve been working for 25 years and this is a new thing for you, right? You never talked about this before when you came up in the workforce. I want you to trust me, right?”
George Vergolias: [00:10:11] As a leader, we have to give them a clear message around that and we have to give them motivation and we have to give them a sense of hope. Right? So, again, we drown not by falling in the river, we drown by staying submerged in it. So, as we look, you know, the best companies that adapted well, maybe some that even thrived during the pandemic, had leaders that really rallied the troops and they instilled a sense of hope as well as a sense of direction.
George Vergolias: [00:10:44] Later in the presentation, I’m going to mention that hope – we’ve all heard this statement, hope floats. But I have a little add-on. Hope floats but it doesn’t swim. Right? Hope gets us and rises us emotionally to the top. But then we need action and direction and intention to get somewhere with that energy. And I think that’s where that is an important part of the messaging at a leadership level.
George Vergolias: [00:11:11] And, again, Shane, I think you were getting at – your question was insightful because it was getting at the sentiment and I hear this all the time, “Well, man, that’s hard to do.” Well, yeah, it is hard. These are hard changes. But the pandemic was hard. The reality is, though, if you look back as difficult as the pandemic was at so many levels for us as individuals, as teams, as organizations, we’re here. Every time we said we couldn’t go on, we did it because we’re still here. So, it’s important to realize that as individuals and as organizations, if we want to get somewhere or get something that we never had, we have to start doing something that we never did. And it’s important to start thinking in those terms.
George Vergolias: [00:11:58] So, what does this mean? More practically, it’s a conceptual shift. So, the idea is it’s no longer a top-down. I’m not going to negate hierarchies. Decisions need to be made. Stewardship needs to still occur. And there needs to be direction at the team level and at the organizational level, for sure, without a doubt. But the conceptual shift now is more different. It’s about engagement. And it’s about shifting how we do that over time and engaging a process from end to end so that when we bump into problematic behaviors, hostility, people that are struggling, instead of Stephen Covey’s first response on that train, on that subway, which was what’s up with this jerk dad who isn’t managing his kids, that completely shifted in an instant to this guy’s really struggling and his kids are really struggling. And now, we know we have a deeper insight. And with that deeper insight, we have a whole other response that that calls for. Right?
George Vergolias: [00:13:04] So engagement from end to end and moving from an adversarial and contentious way of approaching our employees or our employee problems to one that is more collaborative and supportive. And, again, I want to be clear. Support doesn’t mean you let people get away with stuff if there’s bullying, sexual harassment, prejudice, other types of even hate verbiage, right? We just saw in Buffalo, right, a heinous mass shooting that clearly was a hate-driven crime. Those are not acceptable. So when we say supportive, we don’t mean a blank check, but we mean providing a culture by which those issues are dealt with directly and in a timely manner while also continuing to build cultures of inclusion.
George Vergolias: [00:13:48] So, education on that process is important, message of support that is balanced with the need to protect our people and our business interests, and then create alignment of those resources beyond just intervention as a singular event. All too often we think of “George is struggling. Let’s go get him an FFD.” Like that’s an event. “Let’s get him a fitness for duty.” And those, by the way, can be very, very useful. Right? Or we think, let’s give him a write-up or let’s send him to mentoring, or let’s give them a verbal warning. Right? There’s a million, not a million, but there are many ways we can think of how we deal with some problematic behavior or performance issue.
George Vergolias: [00:14:28] All too often we think of that as an intervention, a singular thing that we do, and that thing should somehow promote change. But we need to start thinking of is it’s a process and the intervention is one step in a process that might, if we’re lucky, fix the problem right then and there. But often it won’t. And there might be other steps that we need to take, and at some point we have to make the decision. Is this individual worth keeping with the organization or are they a bad fit? So, all of these are just different ways of thinking about how we start promoting psychological safety and thriving.
Shane McNally: [00:15:09] Creating a psychologically safe workplace is something that has become a lot more top of mind in the last few years. No matter the industry you’re in, ensuring that your employees feel heard and are able to receive the support and resources they need is crucial to the overall well-being of your people and organization.
Shane McNally: [00:15:26] With R3 Continuum evidence-based interventions, specialized evaluations, and tailored behavioral health programs, we can help promote your organization’s individual and collective psychological safety, recovery, and thriving. Connect with us and learn more about our services at www.r3c.com or email us directly at email@example.com.
R3 Continuum (R3c) is a global leader in workplace behavioral health and security solutions. R3c helps ensure the psychological and physical safety of organizations and their people in today’s ever-changing and often unpredictable world. Through their continuum of tailored solutions, including evaluations, crisis response, executive optimization, protective services, and more, they help organizations maintain and cultivate a workplace of wellbeing so that their people can thrive. Learn more about R3c at www.r3c.com.
R3 Continuum is the underwriter of Workplace MVP, a show which celebrates the everyday heroes–Workplace Most Valuable Professionals–in human resources, risk management, security, business continuity, and the C-suite who resolutely labor for the well-being of employees in their care, readying the workplace for and planning responses to disruption.