A recent study projects a significant shift in the workforce as soon as the economy picks up. Apparently, there are significant numbers of workers greatly dissatisfied with what they do, frustrated by how the tough times were handled, and ready to “go to something else somewhere else.” This is especially true for younger workers who do not share the more traditional values of having to do the same thing for a long time at the same place. There were studies prior to the recession that also showed the highest levels of employee disengagement and apathy in over 6 decades. One of the more revealing root causes for this massive dissatisfaction and predicted musical chairs is the perceived lack of emotional safety … exacerbated by the “survival mode” behavior many leaders and peers have exhibited over the past nine months or so.
I spoke with several clients about this recently. I first ask them what they do for their emplyees’ safety. They respond by going through a series of well-defined security measures – such as security passes, night lights with phones, security officer patrols, parking passes, and so on. Then I ask them what they do for the emotional safety of their employees and I get the proverbial deer-in-the-headlight look. What is troubling is not there aren’t any answers, but that this question has never been asked. In all fairness, it is much easier to assess other forms of safety defects. When a car is stolen, well, you have a missing car. When someone steals a laptop, well, you have a missing laptop. What happens when someone’s dignitiy is compromised? What is missing then? Is it not plausible to assume that the person with the lost dignity will mentally check out long before they physically check out? And what is the cost of that disengagement? What is the cost of not caring? What is the cost of not having standards/protocols over emotional harrassment in the same way as there are sexual harrassment protocols? The counter-argument I get from my peers is that this is hard to measure and even harder to agree to what constitutes emotional safety. Really? It’s hard to know when I feel safe to say “I don’t know” or “that’s a bad idea, boss”?
I am sure many of us have a perspective on this. My point is simply to ask leaders and managers to consider the emotional safety of their teams as vigorously as they would their physical safety. If you don’t care about them, why should they care about you?