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Emotional Safety and Everyday Courage

Creating a Culture of Emotional Safety

In our article Caring for Covid’s Emotional Long Haulers (Nursing Management, March 2022), my coauthors and I shared a snapshot of the emotional toll of the pandemic and its aftermath, and prescribed 14 strategies organizations should implement to help people cope. 

This November, Nursing Management will publish another article I wrote with a different set of coauthors on “Courageous Leadership for a Culture of Emotional Safety.” In that article, we differentiate psychological safety, which has been widely written about by Amy Edmonson and others, from emotional safety, about which much less has been written (and needs to be).

Psychological safety is the assurance that people can identify problems and mistakes, including their own, without fear of punishment, retribution, or humiliation. It’s an essential quality of just culture, which seeks to ascribe responsibility for mistakes and errors to organizational processes and cultures rather than to blame individuals. The primary focus of psychological safety is on the organization and its success at improving quality and safety outcomes.

In our article, we define emotional safety as the assurance that an organization’s leadership is committed to protecting the emotional health and wellbeing of staff from internal and external threats, and to assuring that care is available for emotional stress or trauma without shame or stigma. The primary focus of emotional safety is on helping each individual feel protected against threats to their physical and emotional wellbeing and that the organization effectively cares for their mental and emotional welfare.

The need for this work is immediate and urgent. A survey of 1,119 healthcare workers by Mental Health America found that: “93% of healthcare workers were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.”

Surveys I conducted for members of the Association of California Nurse Leaders and for participants in the 2022 National Evidence-Based Practice Conference included the question, “Do you think that your staff believes the organization is doing enough for their mental and emotional wellbeing?” Nearly half of responding nurse leaders chose “not at all” and fewer than 10% chose “absolutely yes.”

And these are leaders! Frontline staff have an even dimmer perception. A national survey by Trusted Health found that 63% of frontline nurses say the healthcare industry does not prioritize or provide adequate resources for their mental and emotional wellbeing.

In his new book Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It, Gallup CEO Jon Clifton writes that “Workers who strongly believe their organization cares about their wellbeing are…”

70% less likely to report experiencing a lot of burnout.

69% less likely to actively search for a new job.

5X more likely to strongly advocate for their company as a place to work.

In 1996 I published my first book – Never Fear, Never Quit. Since then I have studied, written and spoken about what I call Leadership CPR+H – Courage + Perseverance + Resilience + Hope. This work is more important today than ever (and will be even more important tomorrow).

That’s why I created, and recently updated, Everyday Courage for Extraordinary Times. Sharing this course with your team is a great way to show people you care by giving them a resource they can use at work and at home. It includes a wealth of practical skills for courage and perseverance that will help you build a stronger team and a more resilient organization – at just pennies per employee. Check it out at the website Everyday Courage for Extraordinary Times course. You can download a copy of the flyer here:

Everyday Courage for Extraordinary Times