The Workplace Culture Opportunity: Ditch the Bad, Build it Better

by Sep 22, 2022

Based on our episode, “The Workplace Culture Opportunity: Ditch the Bad, Build it Better” with Kim MacDonald


Psychological safety is the interaction that you have with others. It is the experience you have where you can feel free to speak your mind, speak out, speak up, be vulnerable, question someone about their opinion without the risk of being harmed, whether indirectly, shut down, ignored, or dismissed.

It is critical that we consider what happens to us in our lives. It is related to the culture and climate that you are attempting to create in the workplace. For many leaders, they create those naturally, but we’ve seen a lot of the research and a lot of the outcomes for mental health in workplaces and things that happen with consequences that we aren’t able to predict.

So, if you think about trying to create psychological safety, it’s an outcome of an interaction that you have, and so you’re working with certain kinds of behaviors, skills, and competencies, and listening and curiosity, and all of those things together are going to create that interaction so that it’s psychologically safe.

You are physically safe, and you know it could probably help your emotional safety as well. Occupational health and safety in workplaces has evolved over time. If you think back a long time ago, we’ve got physical safety, then chemical, then biological safety, and all of the managing the hazards around those and workplaces. 

Psychological safety is another evolution of safety within the workplace because we now know that we did a lot of things in the past and we did have a lot of business practices that divided up our whole humanity at work. We left our emotions at the door.

We do know that there is more than one way to do things now. The circumstances and the situation have changed. We had a lot of work-related stressors before the pandemic, but the pandemic really sharpened the pencil and showed us how adaptable we were.


Factors of Psychological Safety:


You could take a look at your organization and figure out where the hazards are and the risks within those factors and then identify and take action to mitigate them. 

Leader is encouraged to behave

You can look at some of the underlying behaviors and competencies that would support those factors. 


It is a difficult one because it is a leader’s responsibility to look around and manage the workload.

Workload management

It is a key hazard that has to be organized and well managed even when the organization is highly busy. 

Leader communication and expectations

If you do not understand what your role is, and you don’t have a lot of communication from your manager or from the leader of your team, then you are working in a really challenging place.

Psychological fit

Being emotionally intelligent and stable.

Organization should focus on civility and respect 

It is a huge factor and one that we all take for granted in many ways within our organizations. Respect for me and how that shows up for me in my lived experience at work is very different from yours. It’s very different from every single person. Respect isn’t a policy. We’re not requiring people to be respectful. We require them not to harass. 

Empathy and Resilience

There’s an entire body of experience that managers do not know about and do not understand. There’s a lot of discussion about empathy within these contexts of psychological safety and the system of psychological health and safety when you’re trying to identify hazards, but empathy is one of the things that we talk about. There’s a lot of training out there on empathy and resilience.

Resilience is not a skill. It is not a competency. There are a whole set of human competencies and skills within those competencies that will give you all of the things you need to be able to manage and cope and be able to operate at your highest level and bring your whole self to work. 

The workplace has to be psychologically safe for you to be able to do that. You have to feel included. We know that marginalized groups in many groups have a lot of factors that come into play, and so they typically have a lived experience that is different than other people in the workplace, so that inclusiveness is all tied into psychological safety.

If you go down the path of resilience, the stigma that is currently attached to mental health and if you have certain types of illnesses, we all know that some illnesses have more stigma than others. We see a wide range of mental health outcomes.

Performance, excellence, and human emotions can all live together. The more we can integrate those, the better off all organizations will be. 


Uncertainty has an incredibly damaging impact on us. The more that an organization can reduce those things, the better the workflow.

Research really shows that uncertainty and ambiguous roles and responsibilities are one of the top predictors of workplace bullying. The more ambiguity there is around your roles and responsibilities, the more likely you are to engage in bullying behavior. 

It’s extremely one of the highest stressors for us, which is why life changes are so stressful. Then you run out of energy to manage your emotions because you’re focused on the stress that you’re experiencing.

How can you reduce work-related stressors? That is the occupational system of putting something in a place to look at to identify the hazards and the risks and then do preventative work and actively manage it so that those unintended consequences don’t show up. 

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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