Is Your Practice Psychologically Safe?
Physical safety is our most basic human need. As the dental leader, it is your responsibility to provide an environment for your staff and patients that does not have serious hazards. This is so important that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets standards for maintaining a safe workplace for employees. I am confident that you know the importance of proper medical waste and sharps disposal. You abide by a sterilization plan. Your practice has accessible building exits and restricted areas to limit employee exposure to x-rays. There is no doubt in my mind that you want to prevent injuries and save lives.
When people think about occupational health and safety, the first things that come to mind are usually associated with physical injury or illness. Just as physical safety is important, so is psychological safety. Leadership guru Warren Bennis first introduced ‘psychological safety’ in the 1960s to mean being able to give your opinion without fear of reprisal. Psychological safety endorses the concept that employees learn and perform better when there is respect and acceptance. Embracing this idea means creating an environment where team members feel comfortable enough to acknowledge their own weaknesses, voice their gaps in knowledge, and ask for help when they need it.
Over the past 30 years, research has shown that in order for businesses to thrive, leaders need to ensure that employees feel psychologically safe. Without it, disastrous consequences can happen. For example, on February 2, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up as it returned to Earth, killing the seven astronauts on board. The NASA investigation determined that a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle's external tank and fatally breached the spacecraft wing. This problem with foam had been known for years and one of the key management reasons for the failure to disclose this was the fear that scientists had to tell top leadership.
Do you know the warning signs of a psychologically UNSAFE workplace?
• Increased conflict among coworkers
Psychological safety is at the heart of good leadership. Research shows that companies with a high degree of it do better financially – and no wonder! In the best of worlds, psychological safety starts at the top and is filtered down.
Creating a psychologically safe workplace starts with you, the dental leader. Take an inventory of yourself and your behaviors. Are you doing and/or saying things that are getting in the way of building safety? Employees watch you. You are the role model who sets the standard for office behavior. I guarantee that you will not get top performance out of any employee who does not trust you. If they don't trust you to make the best decisions AND trust you to look out for their best interests, your staff will feel that they have to do it themselves. The time they spend looking out for #1 erodes team cohesion, decreases productivity, and reduces the quality of patient care. Remember, staff that care for others will only continue do so if they feel supported and cared for themselves.
Take an inventory of your team.
• Do employees openly and readily disclose their opinions?
Although no team is perfect and even the best teams sometimes struggle with one or more of these issues, the best dental practices constantly work to ensure that their answers are “yes”.
If you want your practice to thrive, develop an environment that maximizes collaboration and unity. The foundation of strong teamwork is trust, and trust is about vulnerability. Team members who trust one another are comfortable being open about their failures, weaknesses and fears. That is psychological safety. And that is the foundation on which you can to build a strong practice.
To strengthen leadership and teamwork in your office, contact Dr. Haller at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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