Foster a safe and open environment

A crucial element of honoring dignity is creating and maintaining an environment where people feel safe—to speak up (including to their manager), give feedback, take risks, offer a different perspective, and raise an actual or perceived dignity violation without fear of being ignored, judged, or punished. The difference between how managers and their teams view this kind of “psychological safety” is stark: In our own research with Willis Towers Watson, we found that while most senior leaders (79 percent) believe they encourage employees to speak up, only 51 percent of employees agreed. Promoting open dialogue advances dignity, and it is crucial in a heavily “work remote” environment, where ideas can be raised only via technology such as email, messaging, and video, and in turbulent times, when knowledge-sharing and open communication can help propel organizational goals forwards.

A lack of psychological safety is a barrier to other elements of dignity—people won’t feel included or have a sense of belonging, for example, if they feel unsafe.

Leading by example, managers can foster psychological safety by encouraging people on teams to speak up, admitting their own mistakes, demonstrating humility, promoting inclusion, and acknowledging their blind spots. (Harvard Business School) In doing so, they are honoring dignity by encouraging the open expression of ideas and employee voices. As organizational psychologist Adam Grant has written, “In every team and every organization, the responsibility for creating psychological safety starts at the top. When people get penalized for voicing problems and concerns, they learn that it’s not safe to speak up. It’s up to those in power to open the door—and keep it open.” (Learn More)

The manager plays a key role in setting the dignity tone. Here, that means explicitly creating room for disagreement, opening channels of effective communication, and showing fallibility. Where psychological safety is high and paired with robust performance standards that are clear and in service of organizational goals, employees will thrive and stakeholders will benefit. As our friend Amy Edmondson has explained, “true psychological safety involves being ‘unafraid to disagree with the boss and point out others’ mistakes because we care more about the customer, the patient, the quality of the work, than about our ego in the moment.’” (Financial Times)

Finally, the manager must help ensure that all applicable workplace safety measures are followed.

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