In the workplace, nothing is more important than employees daring to be themselves. Imagine walking on your toes for more than 30 hours a week, not feeling comfortable and having no one around to have a sincere conversation with. This will make anyone feel sad or stressed!

That is why “Social Values” are among the drivers of the 2DAYSMOOD Employee Happiness Model. It is one of the 15 measurable factors that influence happiness at work, employee engagement and with it the success of your organization.

How to create an emotionally safe working environment? 

Social values are about the importance and creation of an emotionally safe working environment, in which employees can and dare to show their true personality, talents, motivations and uncertainties. With the term social values, you can think of values such as diversity & inclusiveness, a sense of freedom of expression, equality, respect and honesty.

On August 22, I, Robin van der Meulen, Strategic Happiness Expert at 2DAYSMOOD, in collaboration with specialist Hans van Gastel, brought together our customers to consider the question:

“As a director, HR professional or team leader, how do I create an emotionally safe environment for employees?”

Hans is a coach and connector, and has been working on sustainable job happiness, growth and personal leadership for years. He believes that people achieve the best results based on trust, connectedness and leadership. In this blog we will answer the above question from our own specialisms and experiences.

Hans: ‘’Before you can answer this question, it is important to take a critical look at what is actually happening in your workplace in terms of social values. And especially to what is not (yet) happening.”

For example, answer the following questions for yourself: 

  • Are social values high on the agenda at my company? 
  • Do I see added value of an emotionally safe working environment? 
  • Do I know how to create such a safe environment? 
  • Do I always feel safe at work myself? 
  • To what extent is my team completely open? 
  • Is everyone always welcome? Whether someone is male or female, whether someone adheres to a religion or not, whether someone is a refugee or not?
  • Do men and women get equally paid at my company? Do we treat women in the same way as we treat men? 

‘’To make people flourish and develop themselves, a safe foundation is necessary’’

The importance of openness  

Why is this all so important, a safe, open and equal working environment? Why is it so important that employees can show themselves when they are working?

Hans: ‘’The importance of this can be deduced from the Maslow pyramid (1943). In his pyramid, Maslow already showed that the basic need for safety must be met before achieving self-development. In other words: a safe foundation is necessary to make people flourish and develop themselves. This applies to life in general, but certainly also in the workplace. To ensure that employees feel comfortable at work, it is important that they feel comfortable with themselves. The more open colleagues may be with each other, the more successful they will be together.”

Social values as drivers of work happiness  

Robin‘’Although the importance of psychological safety was found to be evident years ago, we notice that 2DAYSMOOD customers consider social safety for employees to be and stay an important theme in the workplace. Logically, times are changing and equality between men and women may have improved… But now more than ever we have to deal with different cultures, religions, or gender diversity. Not to mention the aging of the population, of which age discrimination can be a consequence.’’ 

Fortunately, in this modern age, we also have the opportunity to investigate drivers such as social values smartly and quickly. Our measurement method, which is linked to the Employee Happiness Model, allows employers to measure the extent to which their employees feel that they can express their true self at work. 3206 employees within 21 different organizations were asked how satisfied they are with the current situation (whether they can be themselves). In addition, it was assessed how important they think this social value is for their job satisfaction. On average, the employees gave a satisfaction score of 4 (out of 5). This is a pretty satisfactory score, which is good because the impact of this figure appears to be high. For the statement “respectful and equal treatment is important for my job satisfaction”, employees gave an average score of 4.5 out of 5 (on average).  

Although employees of these 2DAYSMOOD customers can already show their true self at work, the current situation is not yet the same as the desired situation. As an employer, HR professional or team leader, this is a sign to (continue to) take respectful and equal treatment seriously and to ask: What should change to make this 4 a 4.5 or 5? 

‘’Only when you provide openness in the basis, there will be created value’’

The importance of leadership  

When you as an organization do not communicate openly about certain expectations, norms and values, you also do not create an open environment for your employees.

Hans: ‘’Only when you provide openness in the basis to both current and potential employees, there will be created value.”

Beliefs, traits, motivations, norms and values that underlie behavior within your organization only become visible when you communicate them openly (McClelland). For example, communicating clear business ethics and clear guidelines on how to interact with each other, can help in creating and maintaining an open and socially safe working environment.

Hans: ‘’Leadership is of great importance here. Change must be created from above to break certain behavioral patterns.”

How to recognize socially unsafe situations? 

In organizations, socially unsafe behavior patterns and situations can occur in all shapes and sizes. Often, these are only short moments that pass unnoticed and if they do get noticed, then the moment to say something about it is already over. In addition, employees are inclined to flee or to shut themselves off in socially unsafe situations out of fear of not being part of the group when they share a different opinion. A number of examples and signs of socially unsafe situations are: 

  • An employee who is portrayed as a ‘smart ass’ in a colleague meeting without context. 
  • A manager who trivializes that everything is fine when an employee shares that she is being harassed by a colleague. 
  • An employee who is always alone during the break. 
  • Sexually tinted comments about women in a setting with and without women. 
  • A manager who complains, without taking ownership of the subject. 
  • Colleagues who are digitally belittled because no one responds to his / her question.

It can be pretty difficult to notice such situations on the spot and intervene immediately.

Hans: “However, if you as organization just sit and do nothing at such moments, it will ultimately result in the loss of employees. By having an open conversation, you can reduce certain tensions and restore safety.” 

7 Tips to create social safety in your organization 

According to Hans, there are a number of things you can do as management, HR professional or team leader to create a socially safe working environment for your employees:

  1. It starts with embracing and discussing social values ​​through leadership. Put social values ​​(high) on the agenda and create insight into how things are going within the organization.
  2. Set a good example yourself and be vulnerable. How open and approachable are you yourself?
  3. Don’t leave it at just insights. Transform insights into an active policy to safeguard the social values in your organization
  4. Be transparent about the subject. Don’t avoid conflicts, but mediate impartially. Be a mirror to your employees and ask questions of conscience such as “How would you like to be treated?”
  5. Always follow your feelings and intuition. Does something feel wrong? Do you continue to rewind a certain situation? Then do not ignore this and discuss it with the people in the relevant situation.
  6. Every organization has people who have a great sense of integrity and justice. The question is: do you know them and how well do you really listen to these people?
  7. Keep asking for and monitoring feedback. What is happening in your company? Talk about this. Consciously search for hard-to-discuss topics and put them on the table.

Hans: “Finally, as an employee (at any position in the organization) you can also contribute to a safe organization yourself. The more open you are, the more open your colleagues will be. You will always have an influence on what happens because you will always be there. So, also bring in your own social norms and values!”

Improve social values in your team with this exercise! 

Organizational psychologists in the 2DAYSMOOD team are daily gathering scientific knowledge that can also be applied effectively in teams. We share knowledge, tips and exercises that we compile via our online E-learning platform (only for customers). But … because it is the week of work happiness, we would like to share a valuable exercise with you below!

Team exercise: determine what you mean by “respect”

Gather around as colleagues or team and individually think carefully about the following questions. Determine what each team member considers as respectful, acceptable behavior for the workplace. Use your sensory experiences to make your answers concrete!

  • What does respect look like to you?
  • How does respect feel for you?
  • How does respect sound to you?

There are no wrong answers here, but if your team is struggling with the above questions, use these examples to guide them:

  • Respect looks like… coming neatly dressed to work
  • Respect feels like… feeling at ease and carefree on the way to the office
  • Respect sounds like… listening to everyone’s opinion without an immediate reply
  • … We are sure you can now think of much more examples!

Once each team member has answered these questions for themselves, you gather together as a group and everyone shares their answers. Encourage team members to share the stories behind their answers. How different are experiences of team members and how come experiences are different? Now try to find the shared values in those experiences and answers together.

As a team, compile a list with the answers everyone finds desirable, respectful and acceptable. Formulate these in clear forms of behavior, expectations or rules. Such as, “when we enter the office we say goodbye to each other’’, “everyone cleans up junk” or “we laugh with each other, not at each other.”

Hang the list at a visible place in the office environment (and turn it into a creative work!).

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