Less stress, more success: how psychological safety affects your team’s performance

Mental health has weighed on our minds for as long as time can tell, yet only now are we feeling able to talk about it freely. Societal changes have meant that the subject is no longer taboo and more people are getting help when they need it, rather than keeping schtum and silently hurting.

Since the turn of the century, there’s been a surge in mental health problems, with the Commonwealth Fund stating that more than a quarter of adults in the US experienced emotional distress, anxiety, or great sadness in 2016 and the NHS reporting a 24% increase in UK mental health problems since 1993. Keeping your mental health on track can be a difficult task, especially in our technology-fuelled world of social media and perfection. But one of the main causes of mental ill-health actually comes from stress in the workplace.

A report by Perkbox claimed that a staggering 79% of British adults have experienced work-related stress in 2020, an increase of 20% since 2018. Meanwhile, a mere 1% suggested that they had never experienced any form of stress at the office. So what gives?

Psychological safety

A study by Google looked into the five key dynamics that make up a successful team and found that psychological safety was the largest and most inhibiting factor. Effective teamwork is impaired when there is a reluctance to engage in behaviors that could negatively influence how colleagues perceive our competence, awareness, and positivity. Being comfortable enough to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other makes for a calmer environment than one that involves walking on eggshells, the terror of making a mistake, and the worry that asking questions will risk your accountability, knowledge, or worth. Although self-protection is of course a natural instinct – no one enjoys putting themselves under the prospect of scrutiny – these conditions can harm your team mentally and affect its performance.

Pressure vs performance

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Blog
PUBLISHED

21 July 2020

The above graph depicts the effect of pressure on performance. The inverted U curve, also known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law, dictates that performance improves with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a certain point. It suggests that a lack of pressure doesn’t make for good performance levels; employees get bored and are unlikely to keep up a good standard of work without an element of urgency. On the other hand, a particularly stressful environment is also unlikely to yield a high output, as anxieties and unhealthy attitudes can arise in pressurized environments. As Goldilocks probably would have guessed, the sweet spot arrives right in the middle. Teams perform at their best in workplaces that have a small amount of pressure to spur them on, but not so much as it becomes tiresome and draining.

It’s all well and good to create a relaxing workplace, but popping a few peace lilies around the office won’t cut it. There are always events that occur beyond our control, and in the world of cybersecurity, these are often crises where teams must perform under significant pressure. What happens when your already super stressed-out CISO finds a breach? In a report, 91% of security officers said they suffer moderate or high levels of stress at work, with almost 60% rarely or never disconnecting from their responsibilities and around a fifth coping with medication or alcohol. How can you expect tense incident response teams to act when the going gets even tougher?

Equipping great teams

A great way to stress-test your organization and to exercise their psychological safety is with Immersive Labs’ Cyber Crisis Simulator, which places teams into dynamic real-world scenarios like phishing, ransomware outbreaks, breaches, and insider threats. Managers are able to examine and test how prepared their organization is to respond, contain, and remediate the impact of a cyberattack, analyze outcomes, and signpost areas for development. The rich, dynamic storylines may feel incredibly realistic, but it’s all a simulation, giving teams that all-important psychological safety net of a completely sheltered sandbox environment in which to practice honing their skills before tackling the real deal. 

Making mistakes is what makes us human, but heading into a real life incident fully equipped and cyber ready will give you the best chance to protect your business. If you think the Cyber Crisis Simulator would benefit your organization, book a demo below.

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