“Psychological safety is essential for reducing stress”

DKK 16.4 billion is the cost of stress for businesses in Denmark every year, according to the National Research Centre for the Working Environment. It is expensive for businesses both in human and economic terms.
Caroline GottschalckMarketing Coordinator
Tuesday, June 25, 2024
Manu Sareen, stress coach and national chairman of the ADHD Association.

Simployer has discussed with Manu Sareen ways to proactively address stress.

"Stress is detrimental in many ways. It reduces our performance, worsens our mood, and disrupts our flow. Worst cases, it can lead to depression and extended sick leave. Addressing stress is crucial, both for individuals and from an economic perspective, as it affects the bottom line," explains Manu Sareen, stress coach and national chairman of the ADHD Association.

Businesses with engaged and thriving employees are 33% more productive, 202% more profitable, and experience an 81% reduction in sick leave, according to findings from a Gallup study in 2020 and data from a Simployer & frankly research in 2022.

Psychological safety - the best weapon against stress

To prevent and reduce stress in your organisation, it is important to investigate why stress occurs within your team.  

"What often leads to stress is untreated or treated mental vulnerability, inner unrest or overload. If we do not address mental vulnerability promptly, it may result in stress-related sick leave," explains Sareen, continuing:

"Psychological safety is crucial for reducing stress. To avoid or reduce the risk of stress, it is essential to identify signs of mental vulnerability. This is most effectively achieved when psychological safety exists within your organisation."

Psychological safety does not just happen naturally. It demands proactive efforts to cultivate such an atmosphere within an organisation.

"To establish psychological safety, open communication regarding stress and mental vulnerability is crucial. Address stress and communicate that stress and psychological safety is taken seriously within your organisation", urges Sareen. 

Hidden symptoms

Dialogue and openness about vulnerability are not only important to demonstrate the organisation’s statement, but also in efforts to prevent stress-related sick leave which become even more challenging if the signs are concealed.

"Many individuals isolate themselves in the workplace and deal with their stress symptoms alone because their attempts to manage their vulnerability are frequently misunderstood. One example is large open-plan offices. If an employee does not thrive amidst the numerous distractions that can arise in such environments, they may expend significant energy concealing their discomfort, fearing it may not be acceptable to disengage from the community. When employees feel compelled to hide their dissatisfaction, it becomes even more challenging for managers to identify signs and intervene pre-emptively," explains Sareen.

Signs of stress can be identified by monitoring changes in the well-being of your employees, such as through ongoing engagement surveys. If changes occur, engage in conversations with your employees.

"There are various types of stress, so engage in conversations with each individual. What does she/he require? For instance, ask them to outline their top 5 stressors. This insight can be highly effective, allowing you, as a manager, to address the situation more efficiently. Nonetheless, it is crucial to act upon the information you receive", advises Sareen. 

To successfully foster psychological safety for your employees, ensure that both you and your team have the necessary knowledge to recognise and understand stress.

"Ensure that managers and employees have a basic understanding of mental vulnerability. For example, consider organising a team event. This will promote comprehension and knowledge and provide an opportunity for employees to contribute - either during the event or in subsequent conversations with the manager", suggests Sareen. 

The leadership is responsible

The responsibility to foster a good workplace with psychological safety rests with you as the leader.

"The leadership bears the responsibility. However, employees also have the responsibility to communicate their needs and requirements. Ultimately, the leader holds the overall responsibility. The leader sets the tone, promotes the necessary support, and encourages openness about mental vulnerability. An example of this is a CEO who sent out a newsletter disclosing his ADHD diagnosis. Such communication can pave the way for open dialogue about mental vulnerability within the organisation", according to Sareen. 

In recent years, an increasing number of individuals have been diagnosed with various mental vulnerabilities. According to the Psychiatry Foundation's report "Numbers and Facts about Mental Illness in Denmark 2023", approximately 82 percent of the Danish population receive treatment in psychiatry or medication for mental symptoms at some point in their lives.

These trends have heightened employers' awareness of the importance of how organisations value mental vulnerability. 

"Especially the younger generations seek organisations that prioritise vulnerability in their CSR policies. To demonstrate openness, organisations can include sections about stress and mental vulnerability in their values or add new segments to their CSR policies", suggests Sareen. 

Manu Sareen experienced stress several years ago. Fortunately, he had a great leader who acted responsibly:  

"At the office, my leader and I crossed paths and then left the office abruptly. Later, my leader called me and said something like, 'This is not like you. Are you okay?' At that moment, it became clear to me that I was stressed. It hit me out of the blue. However, I was grateful that my leader handled the situation responsibly and reached out to me," Sareen concludes.  

Many individuals often fail to notice until it is too late. Therefore, having an attentive leader who prioritises stress and psychological safety is essential. For example, by staying informed about employees' well-being and taking action based on that information.

3 pieces of advice for leaders who want to foster psychological safety:

  1. Lead by example and encourage open communication about stress. Share some of your own vulnerabilities. Employees should feel safe sharing symptoms or requirements that will alleviate stress.

  2. Cultivate a safe environment for your employees. Investigate what engages your employees and what requirements they need, such as remote working, flexible hours, or access to a quiet workspace.

  3. Share knowledge in the field. Ensure that both you as a leader and your employees understand what stress and mental vulnerability entail, so you can recognize your own and your colleagues' symptoms.