The significance of psychological safety in the Community Services Industry
A key workforce strategy for talent acquisition, retention, and innovation
In the Community Services Industry, encompassing the delivery of NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) and aged care services, creating a work environment that fosters psychological safety is becoming increasingly important as we start mapping evidence against the quality care standards.
Psychological safety refers to an environment where individuals feel safe to express themselves, take risks, and contribute their ideas without fear of negative consequences.
Carolyn Grant, CEO of People Plus Science says: “Recognising its importance, organisations within the Community Services Industry are increasingly embracing psychological safety as a workforce strategy to attract and retain top talent – those that don’t will be left behind and potentially face increased risk in the delivery of care and face threat of warnings or sanctions”.
Psychological safety is a term made popular in this decade, by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, who describes it as: “A shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”
It refers to the extent to which employees feel comfortable being themselves, speaking up, asking questions, and sharing their ideas within the workplace without fear of judgment, retribution, or ridicule. It encompasses trust, respect, and inclusivity, forming the foundation for open communication and collaboration.
“Workforce issues are the number one risk to businesses today, especially those in the delivery of care and community services,” says Carolyn.
“They are grappling with a significant shortage of labour, posing challenges to the delivery of essential services. The aging population, coupled with the increased demand for disability support through programs like the NDIS, has intensified the strain on the workforce”.
Several factors contribute to this shortage:
- Firstly, there is a lack of skilled professionals entering the field, resulting in limited talent pools.
- Secondly, the nature of community care work can be physically and emotionally demanding, leading to high turnover rates and burnout among employees.
- Thirdly, low wages and limited career advancement opportunities have made it difficult to attract and retain skilled individuals.
- Additionally, the sector faces difficulties in providing sufficient training and professional development opportunities to ensure a competent and qualified workforce.
These workforce challenges highlight the urgent need for strategic interventions, such as:
- promoting the value of community service work
- improving wages and benefits
- expanding training programs, and
- creating supportive work environments that prioritise employee well-being and growth.
Addressing these issues is essential to ensure the provision of high-quality care and support for vulnerable individuals in the community.
Impact on employee acquisition and retention
Job seekers are increasingly prioritising psychological safety when evaluating potential employers.A study conducted by Randstad US found that 73 per cent of job seekers consider a psychologically safe work environment important when making employment decisions.By actively promoting and prioritising psychological safety, community service organisations can differentiate themselves as attractive employers, thus increasing their ability to acquire top talent.
Psychological safety contributes to higher employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention rates.According to research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, employees who perceive greater psychological safety in their workplace are more likely to stay with their organisation.Furthermore, a study by Google’s People Analytics team found that psychological safety was the most critical factor in high-performing teams.By fostering a culture of psychological safety, community service providers can reduce turnover rates, save on recruitment costs, and enhance the continuity and quality of care for their clients.
Innovation, problem-solving, and a cultural shift driven by psychological safety have the potential to address several of the workforce challenges in the community care sector.
By fostering a psychologically safe environment, organisations can encourage employees to bring forth innovative ideas and solutions to overcome labour shortages and improve service delivery.
Psychological safety enables open communication and collaboration, allowing teams to pool their diverse perspectives and experiences, leading to creative problem-solving and more effective strategies.
A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that organisations with a culture of psychological safety had higher levels of employee engagement, job satisfaction, and commitment.
By embracing a culture of psychological safety, community service organisations can empower their workforce, drive innovation, and enhance employee well-being, ultimately attracting and retaining talented professionals in the Industry.
Carolyn further explained: “Psychological safety is a key driver for organisational performance. It’s a lead indicator of organisational performance. However, instead of measuring psychological safety, we are typically measuring a lag indicator — levels of engagement.
“This is putting organisations, leaders and boards at significant risk – a risk that probably has not been identified across clinical care teams and consumer care teams.
“I see this changing in the near future as boards become more aware of their personal and the organisations exposure,” she said.
Few products or services in today’s work world are created by individuals acting alone. The capacity to effectively collaborate is critical given today’s employees, at all levels, spend 50 per cent more time collaborating than they did 20 years ago.
Promoting innovation through psychological safety:
Psychological safety enables employees to freely share their ideas and perspectives, fostering a culture of open dialogue.When employees feel safe to voice their thoughts, innovative ideas can emerge from diverse viewpoints.Research conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, revealed that psychological safety is a critical element for effective team creativity and idea generation.
Learning and growth:
Psychological safety encourages employees to take risks, experiment, and learn from failures.It supports a growth mindset, where individuals feel comfortable seeking feedback and engaging in continuous learning.This promotes innovation by encouraging employees to explore new approaches, challenge conventional methods, and contribute to ongoing improvement initiatives.
Collaboration and problem-solving:
In psychologically safe environments, teams collaborate more effectively, sharing knowledge and pooling their expertise to solve complex problems.By fostering an environment where everyone’s contributions are valued, community care organisations can tap into the collective intelligence of their workforce, leading to innovative solutions that enhance service delivery and client outcomes.
Psychological safety is a critical workforce strategy for community service organisations delivering NDIS and aged care services. By creating an environment where employees feel safe, valued, and empowered, organisations can attract and retain the right talent, resulting in improved employee satisfaction, engagement, and longevity.
Moreover, psychological safety fosters a culture of innovation by encouraging idea generation, promoting learning and growth, and facilitating collaboration. Recognising the positive impact of psychological safety on both employees and the organisation as a whole, community service organisaitons should prioritise its cultivation to drive workforce excellence and enhance service quality.
On 1 April 2023, new regulations on managing psychosocial risks and hazards at work came into effect in Queensland (already rolled out in other states). These regulations are an important step towards creating safer and healthier work environments that prioritise employee wellbeing.
“Workplaces are challenging and complex, with employees facing a variety of hazards that can impact their physical and mental health. It’s important that managers and leaders understand their obligations as the penalties are severe,” says Carolyn.
While much attention has been given to physical hazards and occupational health and safety, psychosocial hazards are just as important to address. Especially given that the time needed to recover from mental health conditions is on average five times greater compared to physical injuries and diseases.
The new regulations mean companies will now have to manage the risk associated with psychosocial hazards, such as excessive job demands or interpersonal conflict, to support the wellbeing and mental health of their people.