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EQ and Psychological Safety - We Need Both and We Need Them NOW

Mass layoffs, political instability, dread about what hybrid will be on offer, burnout and post-pandemic stress disorder. Leadership that’s unfit for the new job. Confusion. Everyone’s mental health is suffering. Job satisfaction and experience long forgotten as topics. All this is too true to ignore and none is looking up. In fact, from what the data tells us about our clients, most teams are in a strange state of mind. Emotional Engagement is higher but Flexibility dropped. As did Resilience across the board. We’re all worn out and across the board, there’s a feeling of unease and uncomfortable instability.

Some have asked if the Amazon “revolt” (when they insisted that workers return to the office for a few days a week, 25k (THOUSANDS!) employees took to a Slack channel to protest under no unclear terms) and the way it was squashed (they remain firm on the demand for now, presumably as a covert lay-off technique) means anything for the future of WFAA (work from anywhere, anytime) and I think it doesn’t. Irrespective of what the company demands and what public returns to the office we will witness over the next couple of years when the dust is all settled on the upheaval of understanding hybrid, knowledge/office work will never again be performed from cubicles only. It just won’t. None of our kids will be willing to be nonsensically tied to a desk. None of them will take jobs that have no flexibility. Or no human-centred cultures devoid of HumanDebt.

Until that future, we have to accept we are part of the “sacrificial lamb” generation in terms of this major shift in the way knowledge work happens and try and cope with the way it makes us feel extra unsafe.

Teams need psychological safety more than ever. Not for performance only but for survival. Let me explain.

We at PeopleNotTech spent the last few years reminding the world that Psychological Safety is paramount if you want productivity, innovation and ultimately success. That it reduces safety risks, it reduces turnover, it betters outputs and most importantly, it makes teams be able to perform to the highest of their abilities. You guys know this, the higher the Psychological Safety of the team, the more of a stand they have to be high-performing. We fought long and hard against the misconception that Psychological Safety was a “nice to have” because it isn’t that, it’s a sine qua non condition of any success. It’s the difference between operating and excelling and therefore a business, not a moral imperative.

All of that stands. The drama? There is no one to care about high-performance today. Not when we are all as burned out as the next guy. Not when the management layer of most organisations is the one affected by stress, anxiety and depression the most. So, while there’s no denying that Psychological Safety increases performance we have to change the rhetorics for a minute and remember that while it shouldn’t be the primary goal in “times of peace” when everyone is high-performance-oriented, it is definitely also incidentally the morally decent thing to do because increasing the Psychological Safety of the team -through team level interventions and actions not by “the power of example” BTW- is going to serve as a safe heaven for all when the world is in turmoil.

There has never been a time when we more urgently needed teams to feel safe. And teams to be teams so they can be safe which unfortunately, as we know, is almost never the case at the very top.

On another topic, over the past few weeks, some leaders have asked me what to tell workers panicked by ChatGPT’s potential of replacing many knowledge workers as that will reassure them and the reality is that there is little reassurance to offer as a blank statement as it is highly likely that some people will not have a job due to AI advances soon enough so no one should rest assured that it’s not coming for them. What would make people feel better in lieu of empty promises and reassurance is to genuinely discuss all scenarios and see where they will always add value as a human then hone in on those elements and better them.

If anything, this new abject fear of automation should instantly make us recognise we have to double down on the human work because in its absence, if we won’t use the time to hone in and develop our “hard (formerly erroneously known as “soft”) skills and increase the EQ of our people (formerly erroneously known as “resources’) then we will be left with no competitive advantage over the machine.

Between the mental state of workers and the outside instability that beg for tighter teams with high psychological safety used as safe heavens of learning, reliability and self-worth, and the reality of AI coming in to compete for their jobs which begs for them to urgently become better at their USP - “being human” - we are more in need of help than ever.

Next week we’ll be announcing our new ISO certification product and that will give people a chance to see exactly where they are with their efforts against the guidelines and recommendations for teams and psychological safety and hopefully spark movement so that all the education and the tools needed (whether it is my Masterclass and our Dashboard or others) finally land in the hands of those who so sorely need them.


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