With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, businesses across Australia are making plans to return to the workplace. The obvious and necessary key focus is protecting the physical health and safety of all employees. What is arguably just as important however, is providing psychological safety and leading moral intent.

Similar to physical safety, psychological safety is about making people feel safe and secure, but with a psychological focus. When people feel psychologically safe, they’re confident in showing vulnerability to others without fear of judgement, regret, punishment, embarrassment, or negative consequences to their self-image or status.

Providing employees a sense of psychological safety allows them to feel they can ‘risk’ raising concerns, sharing ideas, or asking questions about the Return to Workplace Plans that may not be popular, likeable or agreeable to others.

In making plans to return to the office, employers not only need to make the workplace physically ‘COVID-friendly’, but they must lead with moral intent, communicating the importance of why the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees is important.

Leaders demonstrating genuine care and concern for employee wellbeing provides their people with a sense of confidence in knowing they’re being looked after, to alleviate any potential anxiety about returning back to the workplace.

Concerns felt about COVID-19 and transmission risks can be largely eased by providing people with this psychological safety net, whether or not they agree with the levels of ‘strictness’ or caution being imposed in the workplace environment.

Employers need to be sensitive to the differing views of ‘strictness’ people have in regard to physical distancing and hygiene, and their agility in relation to working from home, flexible hours, staggered start times and so on.

Great leaders know it’s important to listen to their people. They seek feedback about individual employee circumstances and preferences to inform their decisions on returning to the office, and to demonstrate our moral intent in providing a safe and supportive work environment.

For example, to make the right decisions, employers need to consider and respect the personal preferences, choices, and circumstances their employees have in relation to:

  • If they feel comfortable leaving the home and returning to the office
  • If they have an ergonomically sound home setup with good internet
  • If they are home schooling or caring for others
  • If they choose to or choose not to get the COVID safe app
  • If they have different working hours preferences
  • How they feel about using public transport

Psychological safety means people’s concerns, fears and preferences are appreciated and understood, and that return to work plans consider these circumstances to best support employees. Importantly, this includes making them feel comfortable to speak up if they feel uneasy or have questions or comments about the return to workplace plans.

Making plans for the return to the workplace is an opportunity for leaders to show how they can lead with moral intent, to protect employee morale, health and safety, and demonstrate their genuine care and concern for their greatest asset – their people.