Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace


Dave: Welcome to Bring Out The Talent, the podcast featuring learning and development experts discussing innovative approaches and industry insights. Tune in to hear our talent, help develop yours. Now, here are your hosts, TTA CEO and President Maria Melfa, and talent manager Jocelyn Allen.

Maria: Hello everyone. This is Maria, and I’m so excited for you to join us today.

Jocelyn: Hi guys. It’s Jocelyn we’re back with season two.

Maria: A recent article from Forbes revealed that a mere 26% of workers felt psychologically safe during the pandemic. Not only were employees feeling a lack of psychological safety, but they were also experiencing higher levels of burnout, stress, and greater feelings of loneliness.

This is alarming for many business leaders and leaves many asks. [00:01:00] What can they do to help employees feel psychologically safe and how can they mitigate burnout? In this episode, we answer these questions and learn from an expert, how to find teams thrive with Dr. Allessandria Polizzi.

Dr. Polizzi is the CEO and founder of Verdant consultant, former HR executive, and a top 100 HR professional of 2020.

Welcome Dr. Polizzi; otherwise known as Al

Allessandria: I need that in my life. See the preferential treatment. I mean, now the completely unbiased…

Jocelyn: We love your treatment. Welcome. We’re so excited to have you. Thanks for joining us.

Allessandria: Thanks for having me. And

Maria: I’m so glad that we can just call you Al because as you know, I’ve messed up saying your last [00:02:00] name a few times.

Jocelyn: For the longest time, I thought Chevy Chase sang that song because of the music video. So that was, that was quite a surprise for me later.

Allessandria: Well, we’ve really just aged ourselves because there’s a large population that has no idea what we’re doing. Everybody.

Jocelyn: Everybody knows what a podcast is, has no idea what Paul Simon is.

Maria: So we’re so excited to have you today. I know that. Taking your resiliency class here at TTA, and some of us have already started our session. I’m starting my session tomorrow, so we can’t wait. But before we get into your classes, let’s talk a little bit about you Al. So you have over 20 years of experience leading teams to unlock their potential and helping organizations thrive. What led you to start Verdant Cconsulting?

Allessandria: Well, thank you, Maria. In my first career, I was an English professor. So I started my career trying to [00:03:00] make the world a better place through education.

And I taught remedial writing. Italian is just a second language. So my Ph.D. actually is in literature. Because that was my first path. And then I moved into corporate education, change management, et cetera, et cetera. My life’s mission is to make the world a better place through education.

And so, as I was experiencing my own journey with burnout about a year ago, and I started looking at the marketplace at what’s out there and available to me, there was just a big gap, and given my passion and my propensity to run towards messes and fix them. I decided to go ahead and try to build something that would have both met my needs as a learner, but also met my needs as a 20 year veteran of leadership development, talent management for a large company. So what I built was something that would help companies create the skills and capabilities competencies within their [00:04:00] organizations that are currently missing.

And quite frankly, what are some of the reasons why we see burnout and resignation.

Jocelyn: I love your message that your lifelong goal is to make the world a better place through education. Because isn’t that just the missing piece, right? If we just knew better…

Allessandria: It really is. I mean, to me, it started with empowering people who are unable to express themselves through the written word to do so and to be more effective in the broader cultural norms but you know, through change management and the work I’ve done within companies, I’ve been able to do that.

And then now, of course, my goal is to help make this available for multiple organizations to take advantage of through our training affiliates and various programs that we offer.

Jocelyn: Okay, great. I mean, it’s a great program. I’ve started it already and I’ve learned a ton of useful information and I’ve shared that with you during the sessions too.

You know, I’m not the quiet one when we’re sitting in this, but we’ll talk a little bit more about your training later in the [00:05:00] episode, but your focus is on implementing the latest scientific resiliency, burnout, present prevention, and psychological safety research to help people, teams, and organizations learn practical yet simple skills that will help them flourish in one specific area of your focus that stands out to me is psychological safety.

It’s something that we’re maybe hearing a little bit more of, but it doesn’t really necessarily have this like definitive. What is it? Definition out there. So can you explain what it means, especially in VR, at verdant?

Allessandria: Yeah, so, we lean on the international standards organization, ISO 45,003 global guidelines around psychological health and safety, which talk about basically three things.

We call it our CE model, which is, do I have the the S the structure. In place in order to support psychosocial health and have identified psychosocial hazards. I know that’s a big word, but basically, do I have systems and structures in place that help create or help [00:06:00] accelerate? Or do I have the structures in place that help clear the path for trust and connection?

So the structure is one, the other is do I work in an environment, both within our organization, but also outside of it, that would cause psych psychological safety threats or psychosocial harm such as angry customers high tense situations high heat loss. Long work cycles, you know, they have nighttime schedules and there are various things in your environment, but also low product availability, right.

Problems with the supply chain. Those are also things that can impact psychological safety. And then the third one is the one that most people focus on, which is the expectation of behavior. So, you know how we behave towards each other. Part of how we bring psychological safety to life. And the big misnomer is that psychological safety is either always being nice or saying whatever’s on your mind without thinking about the [00:07:00] consequences and it is neither of those things.

It is creating an environment where I can take risks without the fear of punishment. And so. Those risks have to be calculated. They have to be thoughtful. They have to be respectful. But you know, just being nice. That means you take zero risk. But just being kind of slap-happy means you’re taking a bunch of risks without paying attention to the needs of others.

Does that.

Jocelyn: Oh, definitely. It helps. Absolutely. Can you

Maria: Give us some examples of what a psychologically safe workplace looks like?

Allessandria: Yeah. I mean, Google really defined it in the work that they did in 2015 and you know, they talk about. I think it’s six different components to a psychologically safe workplace, which is I have the ability to make mistakes.

I have the ability to ask questions. I have the ability to you know, to try and do so that’s pretty well-defined. So an example would [00:08:00] be Let’s say that we are coming up with a new idea that we’re going to roll out a new product line. Let’s just say we’re doing that. And I, on the line who talks to customers all the time, I see a big flaw in the product either.

It’s not going to do what the customer needs or it’s missing a key component. How, when, and where I was raised. Or if I do represents psychological safety, if I feel like I can point that out, I can come to the table with ideas that I can ask questions to better understand. Were you aware of this? You know, it’s about having a debate and conflict around ideas but not around people.

So people’s smooth ideas, you know, have friction.

Maria: From what you’re saying if you don’t have a psychological safety environment, it certainly stops innovation and creativity.

Allessandria: Absolutely. And the ISO 45,003, which I highly recommend people look at [00:09:00] calls out some of the financial risks to the organization, both from a safe, physical safety point of view, as well as a business performance litigation.

And also, like you said, driving innovation if you, especially in today’s environment, when we have people who are experiencing change fatigue, burnout, exhaustion given the volume of changes happening in the world at large if you’re going to try to implement innovation and change in your organization without investing in.

So things like psychological safety, the likelihood of it being successful is pretty low. In fact, MIT just did a study of the following, the great resignation and the themes that have come up, and companies that are implementing innovation. How are 3.2 times more likely to lose their employees?

Jocelyn: Say that again?

Allessandria: Yeah. So innovative companies are three times more likely to lose their employees during the great resignation. Now toxic work cultures are [00:10:00] 10 times more likely, but most people are like, well, that’s not us. Which but innovation. Drives that. And I strongly believe it’s because of the lack of psychological safety.

Jocelyn: Great. It’s amazing how you, can you connect the dots to these kinds of things that everything makes sense. When you look at the big picture and you realize how it relates to you, but then you go back and you’re related to the business environment, the professional environment, and it’s just re it’s refreshing at the same time to see that life is like, And that are two beings, which have always been, this is me personally, and this is me professionally, absolutely affect one another.

And I am going on a little bit of a tangent here, but one of the things that I really value about what I’ve learned from the information that you provided in your training is that you and I actually talked. Somebody, I talked to Keisha about this too, when we were talking about the training, [00:11:00] because she was like, I love all of this.

As for my personal life, I can see all of this happening. And she was like I would love to see, you know, how I can start implementing it in my professional. And I was like, for me, it’s one and the same. Like, I don’t feel like it. And I think what I’ve struggled with up until like my rain at TTI called a rain, look at me after I started working at TTA.

Was that like, I realized that like, I can be better at my job when I’m the same person clocking in, as I am clocking out. Like if I don’t have to worry about the face that I’m putting on to perform to a standard like I thrive and it’s like, It’s the layman’s terms of what you’re talking about. Like who doesn’t, how do you not see the relationship between?

Psychological safety and performance. Yeah.

Allessandria: And what you said yes. What you said has been proven in the, in the, in the science, in the research. So what you just described is that misalignment of [00:12:00] values. Increasing the likelihood of burnout also increases turnover. Also, if you’re doing work that you feel, isn’t valued increases burnout.

So there are specific causes of burnout that are related to organizational fit structure, supervisor capability. And we know also from research. Only about 80% of managers though. Let me flip that. Sorry. We know from research that only 20% of managers are actually up to the task that 80% of managers don’t have the interpersonal skills, the capability, not the, not desire, but the capability to lead in an effective way.

And we’ve been doing all this work on leadership development and that’s the best we can do for me. The missing piece is what we’re talking about now, which is let’s talk about you as a leader, as a person having needs, having your own [00:13:00] background and experiences. And how do you manage that while you manage your team?

Jocelyn: It’s such a critical part of the learning process, psychological safety.

Maria: So Al does psychological safety look different now since a lot of us are in a hybrid environment?

Allessandria: I mean, yes, obviously that’s such a good question. I think we’re still trying to figure that out. To be honest, I actually am doing a talk on psychological safety in digital spaces later today and you know, it’s fascinating to think about things like informality boundaries, our ability to be on all the time.

Those are things to pay attention to, but also the nuance and that, I mean, look, we are tribal creatures. We evolved to have a social connections and to read into each other. Social cues, physical cues, without the ability to do that. And again, there’s plenty of research on this as well. We don’t, our brains, haven’t been wired to fully [00:14:00] thrive in digital spaces.

And so without that capability, you know, we’re, we’re a little behind on being able to do that as effectively as we can in person. I mean, for 200,000 years, it’s been in person.

Jocelyn: Good point, very good. Around a long time around people.

Allessandria: And those of us who can do that well, who we’re the ones that survived. Right? Right.

Jocelyn: Exactly. We are still here is that me too, like people know

Allessandria: and you enjoyed it, but that you’re able to do it. No one said that you would get joy

Jocelyn: as a survivor really though.

Do you think it’s important to reorientate business leaders with the skills that you’re talking about?

Allessandria: Oh, I mean, absolutely. For two reasons, Jocelyn one for the better of the business. Well, all of it’s for the better of the business. So, but one for the betterment of their team, 60% of the causes of burnout are from your manager, your supervisor, but two for them, Gallup shows.[00:15:00]

The only employee segment that increased its burnout in 2021 were people managers, we don’t talk enough about the emotional strain of managing people, the emotional strain, and a load of getting feedback. We all have to process that. Right. And you know, now everyone’s like, oh, be vulnerable. Be this, be that.

And we don’t help people learn. How do I do that? And also like, managing my own needs because those didn’t disappear just because I got promoted.

Maria: So psychological call safety must play a critical part in the learning process because if you don’t feel comfortable in an environment, it must make it difficult for you to learn. Retain and grow. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Allessandria: That’s part of the learning process is asking questions, not being afraid of making mistakes being able to, try things out and, and feel comfortable doing so again, it’s, without that fear of repercussion You know, how many of us have been in those classrooms where no one says a word, no one [00:16:00] asks a question.

It’s just complete silence, that things aren’t landing. Right. And so, while we’ve known none of this to be true for decades., Right. We’ve known this to be true for a very long time. It’s not the, what, it’s the, how to me that’s been missing. So we tell people things, we tell leaders, create psychological safety, which then even it is, we tell, you know, facilitators create a safe learning environment leverage a growth mindset, but we don’t actually teach people the mechanics of, okay, how do I do that?

And, and how do I do. For me in a way that makes sense for me. And so that’s, that’s the gap I think that we have is helping people understand how your mind works and ways in which methodologies, scientifically proven methodologies to implement psychological safety recognize it and then reinforce it in whatever space you’re in, including the learning classroom.

Maria: So Al since you have a background in instructional [00:17:00] design, how would an instructional designer develop a curriculum that could help foster psychological safety? I could see how a trainer can help with those things, but how would the curriculum. Being developed could help these things.

Allessandria: I love this question.

So I always go back to those three components of psychological safety: structure, environment, and expectations. So let’s talk about structure. So in the instructional design, how do I create a structure that helps people feel connected, know where they’re going, know why they’re going there? Gives them the space to ask questions in a safe way.

How do I integrate the right structure of understanding the times and, you know, being able to give enough space and air to topics for discussion and question and interaction? So, you know, creating that structure w is part of the instructional design. I might take about [00:18:00] paying attention to the environment in which the person will be learning.

Right. So if I’m teaching someone who’s going to be doing, learning on a mobile device do I use closed captioning? Do I create an invite? Do I understand the environment so that learning is taking place and that if it’s not, or there’s an issue that they can address? Right. Have I baked in things like feedback or, you know, social connection, those types of things?

And then, of course, the expectation of behaviors a good facilitator talks about expectations when they get started. So doing that with, in, if you’re doing e-learning or in the design is part of setting those norms about what we expect and why.

Jocelyn: It’s a great question for Maria. It was very interesting because we do kind of get requests like that sometimes where what’s the difference between somebody who can develop, you know, a presentation to teach the curriculum. And then how would you self pace it so that somebody is getting the same expectations and standards [00:19:00] from something that is, you know, in their LMS and being stored for future use.

How does psychological safety affect the business outcomes? We talked about this a little bit earlier. Talking about that there’s research based on the financial outcomes that can affect not having a psychologically safe environment. Is there anything beyond the financial piece that can, that it can affect?

Allessandria: Well, we talked about innovation as well and adoption of innovation. So one of our clients we’re working with the resiliency training that we’re doing is actually part of their business strategy. In order to drive the adoption of innovative pivots, they’ve had to make as a result of the changing market.

So, without that, they haven’t had the adoption of the programs that they’ve been expecting. And so their understanding is that by building that capability in their managers, where they’re better able to navigate change and respond more effectively, then there’ll be better able to Implement those changes.

So innovation is a key part.[00:20:00] Obviously employee retention and talent attraction and employee value proposition. Like I said, 10 times more likely to leave a toxic culture. So, and then also if you’re driving innovation and you haven’t thought about what in layman’s terms for years, we’ve been calling change management, but I think this is deeper and again, not the, not just the what, but the how You know, you, you run, you run the risk of having high turnover there as well.

And of course, we all know that there are plenty of costs to being short-staffed, not the least of which is the inability to even just stay open let alone, I know, let alone manage customer care. And then the increased burnout on the people who see.

Jocelyn:  And that’s the cause and effect that you don’t know, always think about is, and it’s something that’s often talked about too is what, you know, what’s happening to the people who do stay in an environment where psychological safety and, you know, The culture, the positive culture, isn’t a focus.

It’s just everything’s well, this person can do it. Now this person [00:21:00] will do it. This person will do it. And even worse, if that person is really good at doing all of those things. . So I have a little bit of a different question who, if you could say to an organization or to a person who’s obviously in need of this training, like, I guess what does that person look like? Who, like, who’s your ideal audience for a training like this? And what would you say to them if they’re like not thinking about the fact that this type of training could really help them on their journey?

Allessandria: Well, to me, this has to start at the top of the organization. That’s the executive team. And if you’re, if you’re in an organization where the executive team thinks they have it all figured out and like, they’re cool, there are no changes needed like that red flag alert, alert.

And so, you know, we say if the executive team. I have an interest in this work, then we don’t have the interest in working with that organization.

Because there’s just too many [00:22:00] experiences that I have personally seen and had where, you teach that layer down and 50% of the class you’re talking about, well, why hasn’t the executive team been here, right. How am I going to be supportive? If supported, if I implement these things, you’re teaching me now.

You know what? This is all great, but has this person been through it? Oh, okay. I can check out now is a waste of everybody’s time. So, I really think starting at the top, people ask me, oh, well, what industry do you specialize in? And with this work, and I say anyone where people experience stress. , that’s what we’re teaching, we’re teaching, how, how to manage stress and what the, you know, what they call a VUCA environment, volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous, which is the world we live in.

Every time we think we’ve settled down, there’s a new crisis. And so, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. So that’s why equipping people… now I want to be really clear. I don’t believe in equipping [00:23:00] people with resiliency skills, so the organization can be dysfunctional and treat people like crap.

So it’s not like let’s all, build our…

Jocelyn: Let’s get thick-skinned to get …

Allessandria: Exactly. Because not as how I talked about the structure and the expectation of behavior. And I mean that that’s not just the individual person, that’s the entire system.

Jocelyn:  I agree with you 100%., I’m thinking about a personal experience where somebody literally told me I had a job once that if I wanted to grow, I just had to get thicker skin and not take things so personally. And I was like, why would you tell people that,

why is that an expectation that

Allessandria: if I had a dollar…

Jocelyn: I’d be promoted, right?

Allessandria: Jocelyn, if I had a dollar,

Jocelyn: oh, and I can imagine to out like, cause honestly, I would love to pick your brain about the experience that you experiences that you’ve had. Cause it’s only, I can only imagine in yours. The profession as an HR director, like, you know, the stories that you’ve heard that then related to your burnout, then contributed to the amount of work that you had to do that then led to your [00:24:00] burnout.

That then led to what can I do for myself and, oh, wow. I could actually do this for other people too. I mean, what a journey…

Allessandria: it’s funny because, so I spent most of my time as a learning professional. Right? So. Again, a first career college professor. Then I went into learning and development in the corporate space because to me how exciting I can teach people, things they can apply tomorrow, right.

Not like when they graduate from college and also get paid better. So, I have always identified as a learning professional, however, About six years ago, I saw it in the learning profession. It’s just, it can be a little volatile. And so that’s when I expanded into talent, but in my heart of hearts, I’ve always been an educator.

And so the epiphany for me was oh, I can be an educator. For the world.

Jocelyn: You do it, girl. I love it. I love what …

Maria: you’re following a great path. So just, you mentioned owl that you work with any industry that has stress. So just an off-the-cuff [00:25:00] question. Any of us believe that there is an industry that doesn’t experience stress. I was trying to think of that.

Allessandria: I don’t know. It’s my Dick answer, but yeah. So, sorry. Uh, just try to fake, like, if somebody is. Surf instructor and Hawaii, or you know what? Trying to get business …climate change. Hello? Hello, rising sea levels. No, even a yoga instructor, right? I know a resiliency facilitator. Uh, no. Use your tool. These days we’ll have a world where we don’t have to experience stress, right? No, I don’t think we ever will because, oh, well, no. As you will learn tomorrow, our brains evolved to be able to [00:26:00] use stress to our advantage. So there’s positivity is having stress and experiencing those challenges because they teach us more about ourselves to teach us how to build skills. They teach us, you know, all the things, but to do it in a way that’s more functional. I think Maria is like the, is the wholeness that we’re going for.

And you know, understanding that I call it the gift with purchase, right. With, with the brain that does all these amazing things. Come to some distortions in some ways of misinterpreting. What we’ve seen, you know, in the, and Chris are just say, said, going up your ladder, however you want to think about it.

You know, all of that is part of our whole biology and how we have evolved.

Maria: That is very true.

Jocelyn: It’s fascinating. The information is fascinating. I, when I was, cause I know them, what you’re talking about, the. I want to call them personality types, even though they’re not, but it’s like how you can respond to certain things.

And it’s just, it’s a [00:27:00] projection of something else that you’re creating for yourself. And I was like, I’m all seven of these. We’re supposed to, we’re supposed to pick one or two. I know.

Allessandria: I know. Well, I told you, I told you that I need the advanced, advanced one. No, this means that you’re more, you know, you have more dimension and that makes you more interesting.

Maria: I thought you said it’s because you have more dementia than also, which we get from stress, right? Yes, we do.

Jocelyn: We’re just bringing it back …here, we are connecting all the dots.

Maria: So as we conclude, can you tell us a little more about your program?

Allessandria: Oh, yeah, I’d be glad to so. Again, I designed my program based on what I would have wanted to purchase. If I were back in my role as head of leadership development or talent.

And so it is a modular program that blends instructor-led [00:28:00] facilitation with microlearning. And also a little bit of nano learning is what I call it. Those bite-sized. Via our app, we have three programs. One is our signature resiliency everyday resiliency program, which has five 90 minute sessions.

We have a resilient leadership program, which builds on that and teaches leaders how to understand. The unique pressures that they experience as leaders and the mental models that they’re implementing as well as how to process feedback and show appreciation again with tactics, not why, but how, and then we have our psychological safety program that looks at the resilient organization that teaches people about identifying the structures, environment, and expectations in your organization and how to make changes to create and foster psychological safety.

Jocelyn: Incredible. We love the work you’re doing Al and I’m, I’m really enjoying it. And I know the rest of the team is going to start experiencing it this week, but I think it’s exactly what we want it to be Maria. So it’s, I [00:29:00] mean, I’m really enjoying it. For the journaling piece alone, I’ll go on another tangent.

There are like 12 ways to journal and it’s like mind-blowing. So, I bought a specific journal and pens for my training cause I am that girl and I like it, I love it. I love it. I just, set time on my calendar every day to journal for seven minutes. I

Allessandria: I am so proud of you. So that is the main class clean.

Okay. So that’s one thing that we get a lot of feedback on is that and the multiplicity of options, right? So you just said there are 12 ways to journal that it doesn’t make the journal 12 ways. That means that I give you 12 different ways that you can pick from that will work for you as an individual.

And we do that for everything. We do that for mindfulness. We do that for understanding your gifts. We do that for everything we do. We give people multiple options because no one option is right. I

Jocelyn: love it. It’s just such a cool thing that you’re doing. So now new to season two, here we go. On little segment that [00:30:00] we like to call the TTA 10.

Dave: It’s the TTA 10, 10 final questions for our guests.

Jocelyn: All right. Allessandria. So what we are doing is we have 10 questions that we’re going to ask you. They have nothing to do with the episode that we just recorded here, but everything to do with the guests, which is you. So I’m going to ask you these questions. I want you to answer them as quickly as you can.

And if we get through all times, You get a special prize.

Allessandria: So excited. First of all, you know how competitive I am. Let’s go. Here we go.

Jocelyn: What’s your favorite color?

Allessandria: Red.

Jocelyn: Who’s your favorite musical artist?

Allessandria: Oh my gosh. Nora Jones.

Jocelyn: Oh, good one. If you could live anywhere, w if you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Allessandria: I’d live in Sweden.

Jocelyn: Oh, good one again. What’s six-plus five?.

Allessandria: Oh, my God 11.

Jocelyn: Yes. [00:31:00] I just wanted to give you the confirmation. You are correct.

What zoo animal would you most like to have for a pet?

Allessandria: Well, I already have a parrot, so I would love to get one of those tiny little monkeys. Amar, a Marmot. No. Oh, a tiny monkey.

Jocelyn: The tiny monkey, the monkey. Whose face is on the $20 bill girl? I do not.

Allessandria: Andrew Jackson. No, I have no idea. I think the L.

Jocelyn: It was excellent. The Kool-Aid man just burst through your wall. What does he say?

Allessandria: Oh yeah.

Jocelyn: If you could choose any other career, what would it be?

Allessandria: A standup comedian.

Jocelyn: I love it. Does pineapple belongs on pizza.

Allessandria: Absolutely with jalapenos.

Jocelyn: Ooh, I’m going to try that pizza. I like it with bacon, so I like all three triple threats. I’m not going to lie. It sounds good. What was your most recent Netflix binge? Or another streaming service. Oh, thank you.

Allessandria: Well right now I’m rewatching all of RuPaul just because it’s my go-to mindless thing, but [00:32:00] we’re also rewatching Baskets with our son.

Jocelyn: Okay. Very cool. Great choices. And that is the TTA 10

Allessandria: So I totally got my favorite color wrong. It’s not. But whenever I like to pick red, so…

Maria: well, thank you so much, Al. This was a true pleasure. Thank you for all your great work. And our team is really looking forward to learning how to become more resilient and psychologically safe.

Allessandria: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for participating and raising awareness around this time.

Jocelyn: You were wonderful, Al thank you for your time.

If you’re looking for more information on Al and the training that she offers, or if you yourself want to become a part of the TTA talent network, visit us at thetrainingassociates.com.

We’ll see you next time.

Jocelyn Allen: For more information on today’s podcast guests and how they can help your organization, please visit www.thetrainingassociates.com.