How organizations counter intuitively make people feel unsafe

Lots has been said about the need to make staff feel safe in organizations. It has been claimed that feeling safe is the critical success factor that make teams successful.

I want to suggest 5 ways that organizations and leaders make people unsafe. As usual, i will focus on the counter-intuitive, since much that has been written and talked about until now about making people safe is common sense.

  1. Promoting authenticity can and does make many people feel unsafe, especially those who come from cultures where emotions need to be repressed. Encouraging people to be authentic can be akin to asking people to sit in a room naked if the air-conditioning is not working, so that they feel comfortable.
  2. Delegation of authority can make people very unsafe, especially those people who expect that the privilege of being a boss comes with the price tag of protecting staff from risk and exposure.
  3. Asking people to express an opinion can make staff tremble if they come from cultures where opinions need to be kept to yourself in fear of being seen as rude or a tall poppy.
  4. Giving rosy and positive feedback can make people who are highly self critical feel that they are being lied to or deceived.
  5. Asking men from conservative cultures to report into a woman in general and a younger woman in particular can make men feel very unsafe.

I do know that item five is politically incorrect. But because I prefer being correct to be politically  correct, so I feel safe about writing this post. To wrap things up, making staff feel safe has a lot to do with addressing the basic cultural assumptions and needs of a global and  diverse nature.





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6 thoughts on “How organizations counter intuitively make people feel unsafe

  1. “Psychological safety” is a topic that has been around for many many years, and is now having a resurgence. Why? Because we have seen what can go wrong when employees do NOT feel that it is safe to say what needs to be said.

    Why do employees keep their mouths shut when there is something that needs to be said? Fear. Retaliation. Loss of job.

    What needs to be said? The list is long. One example is that “the emperor has no clothes.” Another is that the Boss is the harasser in chief. Another is that stress is killing us. The list goes on.

    Unless organizations address this aspect of culture, things will go unsaid that ought to be said…leading to disasters.

    Great topic, Allon. This could be the focus of an entire conference.

  2. Is the implication in #5 that an organization should never have a man from a ‘macho’ culture report to a woman?

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