Diving board: How psychological safety can help create courageous cultures

With over 56,000 reactions, it’s fair to say that Anna Burgess Yang’s story touched a nerve when she shared it on social media recently.

“My husband started a new job this week. We have both been part of what has been dubbed “The Great Resignation.” Me, because I wanted something different from my career so left a job I had been at for 15 years in early 2021. Him, because his employer ordered him to return to the office.”

She continued,

“The response to that was “Nope.” And as a software engineer, he easily found something new (and better)… As a family, we weren’t willing to give up the life we had become accustomed to. He started looking for a new job. And found one that is 100% remote.


I read something recently that predicted the “driven, career-oriented people will *want* to return to the office.” That mentality is offensive. My husband and I have both been hugely invested in our careers. AND hugely invested in our family. Remote, flexible work allows us to better manage both.”

Anna’s story echoes the challenge facing leaders around the world, as rules surrounding lockdowns begin to shift. By contrast, there are many who believe there’s no substitute for in-person working. In March, the UK chancellor voiced his support for a return to the office:

“You can’t beat the spontaneity, the team building, the culture that you create in a firm or an organisation from people actually spending physical time together” he said.

So what can you do – if talented staff see your expectations for working patterns as a dealbreaker?

How do leaders adapt most effectively to new ways of working?

At Global Warriors, we see this as an opportunity to discover new ways of working – and to examine the cultures we’re creating, consciously or unconsciously, as we do so.

As you may already have noticed, the topic of hybrid working quickly becomes deeply personal.

Our sense of safety, our ability to trust, and our feeling of being valued and heard are connected in complex and sometimes subtle ways to the environment within which we work.

(Even pre-pandemic, think how often air conditioning, shared spaces, the availability of private meeting rooms and expectations around availability became flashpoints…)

What’s more, global organisations also need to contend with changeable and very different policies and guidance – not to mention the choices of individual staff regarding vaccinations and mask wearing.

Then there are statistics like this one, from Factoid HR: “55% of workers want a mix of office- and home-based work”

A number to surely strike fear into the heart of any leader.

Does that mean that half the workforce will be unhappy with whatever you decide?

Seizing the opportunity to think differently

As we ask ourselves how forward thinking leaders would approach this issue, we’re sensing an invitation to look differently at how we might resolve it.

A traditional approach might be to see this problem as one which leaders in the organisation have a responsibility to fix.

You might consider productivity levels, ways of monitoring compliance, and how to ensure consistency and continuity across teams.

But what if this was an opportunity to towards a very different way of working?

After all, it’s not only Covid-19 that’s challenged our notions of what it means to be successful and have an impact.

As Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce noted recently:

“We cannot run companies the way they are. Have you noticed the world is on fire? There’s fires everywhere, we’re in a sustainability crisis. We need to sequester 100 gigatons of carbon, we need to energize an ecopreneur revolution, we need to accelerate the Fortune 500 to net zero, and we need to plant a trillion trees.” – Marc Benioff

Economic disruption, the climate crisis, extreme weather events and technology mean that this isn’t a problem to be “solved”. It forms part of an ever-changing background to our lives and work.

How can we bring a different way of thinking to these challenges?

Creating the day you love

When we take this stance, we can see this as an opportunity to take responsibility for ourselves and begin to explore what we’re actually trying to achieve.

Before considering what might be the best way forward for your organisation, take a minute to reflect on what you want and need.

How would you love to integrate your work into your daily life?

What would work best for you?

Thinking about human value in terms of consumption or productivity is increasingly an old-fashioned way of looking at the world. We know that we produce our most creative, perceptive, innovative – and yes, even productive – work when we’re in contexts which allow us to thrive.

With that in mind, how might we use that intelligence to influence help evolve the systems we’re part of?

Perhaps what matters most isn’t the policies surrounding working remotely, but how safe employees feel speaking up about what works for them.

  • Do teams feel confident about setting boundaries and negotiating with others?
  • What if that changes, or if new tensions emerge?
  • Is the workplace one where they feel safe to change their mind, disagree, or challenge those in more senior positions?
  • Do colleagues trust one another, and is the practice of recognising and accommodating diversity embedded in your values?

Done well, the best organisations can find themselves supporting their staff to make even greater contributions.

Anne reached out on Twitter to tell us that, in her organisation,

“Thanks to the flexible working environment, people learned there are other ways to contribute to a company, evolve, learn and thrive. Making sure we keep enough time for our personal lives.”

How do we want to spend our time?

As we navigate hybrid working, here are some questions you may wish to offer your team, to help them understand what their needs are and begin to re-imagine your working arrangements together.

You might want to reflect yourself too!

  1. If you could design your perfect day at work what would it be like? What would need to happen for that to be achieved? What changes would you make?
  2. How can you manage your state, rather than your productivity? What brings aliveness, fulfilment, satisfaction to your life? And how might you take active steps to enable that aliveness to come into each and every day?
  3. Who do you want to spend your time with? In the past 18 months many of us have spent the majority of our physical time with the same people. Is it time to redress the balance? Who inspires, motivates or challenges you to think differently?
  4. How do you feel? We can lose ourselves in relationships, and worrying about others. Don’t forget to spend time connecting to yourself, and who you are. You have your own unique values, desires and talents. How can you make the most of them, when it comes to how, where and why you work? Try feeling rather than thinking the answer.

In the words of writer, Anne Lamott, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

What an opportunity. We have to ask ourselves these deeper questions – and arrive at new answers.

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