5 Ways Leaders Create an Unsafe Working Environment

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We've all had experiences when we felt unsafe at our workplace. This is not necessarily physical safety, that too, but more so, psychological safety. To feel stressed about going to work because we can't trust people around us or the system is a real downer.

Feeling unsafe at work is one of the worst things to wake up to and put up with.

What new and stinging blow to our confidence and competence awaits is not a bedrock for springing out of bed and doing a great job. Yet, lack of safety is fairly common and goes unchecked very often. Not because we don't want to set it right, but because we don't realise how it affects others and their motivation and morale at work.

How does feeling unsafe at work play out?

We feel unsafe when our idea gets mocked at a team meeting by our manager or a peer, and no one defends us. Or when we end up taking blame by default in a client meeting because our manager is unable to gather the courage to do so. Or when we don't want to cc the boss on every email that goes out of our inbox, but know we better do it, anyway.

One of the fastest ways to send people scurrying to update their resumes is to make them feel uncertain, unsafe and unsupported at their workplace.

If you lead a team or are aspiring to lead one in the future, then hope you find the following 5 tips on creating a safe environment handy.

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas, as well.

#1 Insist on being kept in the loop on every email

This one's an epidemic of the modern workplace. We might agree that trust is a basic building block of your team. If you can't trust your team to send an email without your knowledge, then two things go wrong. One, they know you are always watching them (not supporting them) and two, therefore you don't trust them. Our intention to be kept in the loop all the time is immaterial, the outcome it creates is almost always negative. This controlling tactic shows us in poor light as team leaders.

#2 Provide too much instruction and detail on every task

Does your team feel the need to be told what to do all the time? While a new team with less experience always needs a little more hand holding, the idea is to make them self-reliant over time. If we continue to give detailed instructions for every small thing we want done, the team quickly learns not to think for themselves. There is a nervous energy around them and they might feel anxious doing things their way. Very tiring and unproductive. A team is meant to trust their experience and instincts about doing a good job without detailed instructions on how it needs to be done.

#3 Do all the talking in senior leadership reviews

It's one thing to be on the same page as a team, and quite another to constantly plot and plan on how to posture in front of senior leaders. Does your team feel nervous or unsafe without you around? Do senior leaders focus on faults and put the team down? Or is your leadership of the team not confident enough to allow them to express themselves and speak honestly? Doesn't matter how we justify this behaviour to the team, there's no good ending to this one. We need to trust the team to share their views and roll with the punches if we must. They might even help you manage tough leaders above you.

#4 Try keeping a track of the team all day

You might wonder if team leaders might have time for this. You'll be surprised how many do. If we keep a hawk's eye on the team and try and keep a track of their tea and lunch breaks to how many times their personal phone rings, we'll soon burn ourselves out. If a team member is breaching basic work expectations, it becomes pretty obvious and quickly so. It shows in their behaviour in team meetings, in their work output and their communication with you. You'll have your chance to share your feedback. It's nearly impossible to track everyone all the time for fear you'll miss something. This makes the whole team nervous and always looking over their shoulder.

#5 Try fixing the person every time they make a mistake

Mistakes need to be fixed and people need to be cared for. We sometimes get this in the reverse order. Work pressures and responsibilities at work can blur the line between people and their performance. The thing is, errors will continue to happen, but your team might find ingenious ways to hide it from you as long as possible. They know they will be fixed if found out. A team not just fails to do a better job, but also loses faith in the system and your ability to lift their career and their skills to another level. Which is our primary role as their leader. One of the worst feelings is to make a mistake and know you'll be punished soon after, not supported or coached to be better.

Help your team to feel safe and supported, so they know you care about their mental wellbeing first, and then about the work.

That way, they will do their best work and also make for a great team to have around.

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I am am Inclusive Leadership speaker, writer and facilitator. Check out www.equalityconsulting.com.au for how I can help your organisation build Inclusive Leaders.