How safe employees in Bangladesh feel psychologically in their workplace? How often can they share their thoughts without being squashed with criticism? Do organisations promote mistakes as learning opportunities or they frown upon?
Whitecollar jobholders on average in Bangladesh spend eight to 12 hours in their workplaces, implying they invest the majority of their productive time of the day in office. Over time, colleagues tend to become one's go-to friends naturally with the workplace being called the second home. Hence, the power the organisation beholds in helping one to grow or degrow is significant. The opportunity to work within an empowering culture and a high-performing team helps one with personal development, in contrast to a toxic work culture. So, the need for ensuring psychological safety in the workplace is hardly a hygiene factor anymore; it is a dire necessity.
Why it is important
According to Harvard Business Review, psychological safety and team's high performances are correlated. In one of their articles, they referred to findings of Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina that positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration widen the human minds and nurture them with psychological, social, and physical resources. She suggested that people are often more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when they feel safe.
Today's organisations across all sectors around the globe understand the significance of promoting psychological safety. Management simply cannot expect their employees to think out of the box and to go the extra miles if the process has been designed to be limiting them from daring to be bold. This notion is however not alien in Bangladesh. Learning from the global best practices and adapting it to the country's cultural context, slowly but steadily, Bangladeshi companies are trying to get a hold of it for collective success. Few of the successful current industry practices in the local job market and global examples are discussed here.
Engaging to disengage employees from comfort zones
Many leading organisations in Bangladesh like Nestlé, British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) arrange big employee forums-- both open and anonymous-- to promote open dialogues and idea-sharing among employees across all levels. If done right, employees feel they are valued members of the family and ask questions without fears. It is a mutually benefitting platform where top leaders get the sense of organisation's human strength and the practices of their laid down values, while employees feel fulfilling to be heard of and valued.
Rewarding risk-taking initiatives
Recognising the best performing employees is a ritual which majority of the organisations now follow. Career progression and monetary benefits are increasingly getting tied up to performances and exemplary initiatives in fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), banking, telecom and other sectors. However, how many of them reward employees or teams for taking a bold initiative that might not have brought the expected outcome-- is a question to be answered. A project can fail for many reasons, for instance, an unprecedented event like COVID-19 outbreak. Hence recognising the unconventional thoughts behind the task and leadership to execute it should be the primary success metrics, instead of the direct sales growth or success.
It is important to remember that promoting psychological safety is not a one off event, but requires regular practice. Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook and a former employee of Google described in her book 'LEAN IN' how they promoted fearless culture in Google through posters carrying messages like "Fortune favours the bold" and "What would you do if you were not afraid?"
Investing in mental health and personal development
Many employees tend to mentally break down while handling pressure. With the continuous stretch at the workplace, even the most energetic employee too gets burned out- which can have chronic effects in the long run. Hence, a break from work and going out for tours can be a getaway to release stress momentarily for them,
Quite a few organisations in Bangladesh, for instance BRAC, have recognised the significance of employees' mental health and have introduced provisions of professional counselling and mentoring sessions. With the assurance of confidentiality, employees can seek support from these professional groups for stress management, expectation management, team dynamics and so on.
Building a team on trust and empathy
A research by Google, code-name 'Project Aristotle,' discovered that psychological safety is key to team's effectiveness. They studied 180 different teams under this project and defined psychological safety as the belief of an individual or a team that it is safe for risk taking and won't be deemed ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. Teams with high psychological safety feel safe to take risks and go creative. Hence promoting a fearless culture within the team, that is willing to hear each other's ideas effectively brings creativity and success.
Apart from these practices and organisational culture, firms need to imprint psychological safety in its blueprint and make it an in-built ethos. Even in the assessment centres of the most sought after post of 'management trainee' after graduation in Bangladesh, recruiters now tend to look at an individual's approach towards team collaboration, listening to others' viewpoints, apart from having innovative ideas only. All of these attributes are equally important and a standalone quality does not suffice in securing the role.
Hence from recruitment process to retirement planning, an organisation needs to invest in building a psychologically safe environment for all; the success will follow eventually-- as the top organisations of the world have shown-- as a byproduct.
The writer is currently working as a communications specialist in BRAC. She completed BBA from IBA and MSC from University of Leeds. She worked in Nestle Bangladesh, Pathao Ltd and Forward Ladies, UK. The article reflects the writer's individual views as a professional, she can be reached at