Should Companies Create “Safe Spaces” for Employees?

safe work spaces

The number of employees suffering from stress and burnout has continued to rise in the past decade. A Gallup study of 7,500 employees shows that 67% of employees experience burnout at work.

This is an alarming statistic. With about two-thirds of the workforce feeling stressed, it’s inevitable for business growth to be negatively affected.

People who experience high levels of stress for long periods of time can suffer physically and mentally. Since work is the major source of stress for many people, there has been much clamor to create safe spaces for employees.

What Is a Safe Space?

A safe space can be many different things depending on where it’s located and for what specific purpose it was created. It can be any of the following:

  • a refuge for people who are in fear of potentially threatening actions, situations, or ideas
  • an area in campus where students can express themselves free of criticism, bias, or conflict
  • a space where kids can hang out and have fun in a safe environment
  • a space in a community where vulnerable people can go if they are under threat
  • a space that provides free and confidential services to victims of sexual assault or domestic violence
  • a space where kids and teens can go to for help to escape physical abuse, drugs, or alcohol
  • an environment where people can freely express their ideas, opinions, and thoughts without fear of being sanctioned

Basically, a safe space is any area where people can isolate themselves from situations that may be threatening, disturbing, or disgusting.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on safe spaces within a company.

Should Companies Have Safe Spaces?

There are federal laws and company policies that protect employees from harassment and hostile behavior. Some companies even prohibit the use of offensive language, indecent behavior, and politicking in the workplace.

So, a safe space in its truest definition is essential in a company setting.

What employees need is some form of psychological safe space. A space where they can freely vent out frustrations and disappointments. A space where they can openly share their thoughts, ideas, or opinions.

A survey by ComPsych shows that the main reasons for work-related stress were workload and people issues. About 39% of the respondents indicated that workload was a source of stress, and 31% reported people issues as stressors.

Employees may feel burdened by a demanding boss, unreasonable clients, irritating colleagues, malfunctioning equipment, or tight deadlines. These cause stress that negatively impacts employee morale and work productivity.

We need to implement ways to help employees handle stress and conflict. We must take time to listen to them, understand them, and provide for their needs.

This is primarily why there is a need to create psychological safe spaces in the workplace. However, setting such safe spaces for employees to rant has its own benefits and difficulties. Here are some of them:

Advantages to Building Safe Spaces

  1. It prevents build-up of emotions that may cause anxiety and sudden outbursts. When we allow employees to unload negative emotions, we help them clear their thoughts so issues can be properly addressed.
  2. It prevents violent confrontations. Having safe spaces allows employees to handle conflict in a professional manner.
  3. It creates a psychological bond. When employees place their trust on their colleagues, they foster trust and create a psychological bond that makes work more meaningful. This also improves team collaboration.
  4. It allows employees to vent out in a constructive way. With spaces set specifically for ranting, employees can freely air out their grievances without fear of criticism or of being sanctioned. It also gives them ample time to sort their thoughts so they can convey them without being overrun by emotions.
  5. It keeps tirades within the confines of the safe space. Instead of ranting in the middle of the office within everyone’s earshot, only a few colleagues can hear the rants inside the safe space. This avoids disturbing the entire office dynamics.
  6. It opens opportunities for creating solutions. When employees express their feelings of dissatisfaction or frustration, we can formulate ways to figure out solutions to address their issues.
  7. It improves employee satisfaction and increases employee morale. When we create safe spaces for our employees, we make them feel valued. We show concern for their well-being and boost their morale.
  8. It boosts efficiency and performance. Happy employees perform better. We can cultivate a culture of happiness at work through safe spaces. This helps our employees become more efficient and perform better.

Challenges to Managing Safe Spaces

  1. It can spread negativity in the workplace. Constant venting can spread negativity and adversely affect the well-being of other employees.
  2. It can be disruptive. Employees who have difficulties managing personal issues and interpersonal relationships in the office can cause disruption at work. They may consider safe spaces as hiding places when they are unable to deal with their issues.
  3. It can create an “echo chamber” effect. Safe spaces allow employees to openly vent their complaints and disappointments. But instead of issues being addressed, this may lead to an echo chamber effect where other employees merely reinforce complaints. This creates a toxic work culture.

Make the Most of Your Safe Space

If you do have enough resources to set a specific area as a safe space, maximize its use. It doesn’t have to be merely a space where employees can freely rant or discuss office issues. It could be a space where they could de-stress, unwind, and re-focus.

Consider including these in your safe spaces:

  • Healing garden. Nature is therapeutic. It can help address physical, psychological, and social needs. Consider making an outdoor green space as your safe space. If this isn’t possible, use indoor plants or artwork that evoke nature.
  • Meditation tools. Allow your employees to rest and take a mental break. Have comfortable furniture, soothing music, and a small water fountain in your safe space. Essential oil diffusers and real plants are also great additions to this meditative space.
  • Art materials. Art therapy significantly reduces stress. Just a few minutes of drawing or painting can have substantial effect on emotional and mental health.

Having a physical space for your employees to rant, de-stress, or relax is ideal. However, this isn’t feasible for many companies. Often, the HR department or the office of a manager should suffice as safe space.

Creating a Safe Office for a Positive Work Environment

Creating a safe space for employees to rant can be both rewarding and challenging. Instead of focusing on creating these safe spaces, we should be more proactive and identify the reasons why employees rant.

We can implement ways to prevent stress or burnout by creating a positive work environment in the office.

We can establish a mentoring program where seniors can guide younger employees who are experiencing similar dissatisfying situations they’ve experienced before.

We can provide opportunities for employees to share new ideas, provide candid feedback, experiment with new processes, and learn from mistakes.

We can work on improving employee engagement by staying connected with our employees.

Doing these can optimize our workplace and create a culture of well-being. This makes the entire office a safe space for employees to flourish.