To Action: Feeling Safe – Moderating Stress Through Companionship

When a squirrel monkey sees a snake in its environment, it releases the hormone cortisol.

Squirrel monkey - Wikipedia
One of these little guys

Cortisol creates a state of hyperarousal – something we often call the ‘fight or flight response’. During which, a waterfall of hormones speed up our heart rate, constrict our blood vessels and slow our digestion.

Great for outrunning lions.
Not so much for dealing with workplace created stress.

But we all know this.

What you may not know, however, is if this squirrel monkey happens to be accompanied by a member of its group when that snake arrives – the amount of cortisol that is released is much lower.

The same is true for us humans.

Our own fight or flight responses are heightened when alone. (Ever woken in the middle of the night on a solo work trip, seen a shadow in your room and had that adrenaline hit we know all too well?)

The truth is that there is safety in numbers. Both physically, but also emotionally.

And this fact seems to be on everyone’s mind at the moment.
Psychological safety, an idea from the 1990s, has increasingly become one of the new organisational buzzwords. Like ‘synergy’ and ‘waste’ in years before – it’s now ‘safety’s turn in the spotlight.

While there seems to be a million different approaches to achieve it – the underlying message is one of trust and social confidence. In short – does your team feel safe enough to take risk? (i.e. are your team operating above ‘Fearful’ on the momentum path).

With that in mind, what can you do this month to promote a greater sense of safety within your teams?

I’ll make a humble suggestion here. Don’t look past an oldie, but a goodie: the buddy system. It’s so simple, yet it can make such a huge difference for your team to know they have someone they can talk to. A while back, I had a colleague that used to call me every day or two at about 9am to just check in, chat and laugh for 10 mins. A small time investment for both of us – yet our respective stresses for the day were dramatically lessened.

We’re social beings.