The Psychology in the Workplace Collaborative Blog

Leaders’ Communication in Healthy Workplaces

By Dr. Leslie D. Bessellieu
February 26, 2024

Fostering a healthy workplace begins with communication, ends with communication, and is maintained by communication. Are you getting the sense that communication is part of the foundation of healthy workplaces, particularly psychologically healthy ones?

But first let’s get clear about the term “psychologically healthy workplace.” According to Grawitch et al. (2006), whose work informed the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, there are five categories of programs and policies that organizations use to maximize employee well-being and organizational effectiveness:

Employee Involvement: Staff are empowered by being involved in decision-making processes, participating in self-managed teams, and regular meetings to deliberate on business matters.

Work-Life Balance / Flexibility: Programs are in place to assist employees in effectively managing various responsibilities outside of work, leading to heightened job satisfaction, improved morale, and a deeper commitment to the organization.

Employee Growth and Development: Work policies offer avenues for employees to acquire fresh professional skills and competencies, enhancing the quality of their work experience and aiding in the attraction and retention of top-notch talent.

Health and Safety: Workplace practices foster and endorse healthy lifestyle choices and behaviors. Health and safety programs optimize both physical and mental well-being by preventing, assessing, and addressing health risks and issues, which includes mental health.

Employee Recognition: Companies have programs to acknowledge and commend employees for their contributions in a range of ways, both publicly and privately. This includes formal and informal recognition of achievements and milestones.

In Grawitch et al.’s SHAPE framework (2006), which puts psychologically healthy workplace practices in context, communication plays a critical role as the foundation upon which policies and practices must be built in order to achieve the desired employee and organizational outcomes.

When organizations take comprehensive steps that span these areas, a significant shift occurs, positively affecting both employee well-being and organizational performance, which contributes to a psychologically healthy workplace.

Leaders play a critical role in creating cultures conducive to psychologically healthy workplaces. This role begins with communication.

One major aspect of communication that can cause leaders to stumble involves clarity in setting and stating expectations, particularly expectations about the roles others will play in decision-making.

In Difficult Decisions: How Leaders Make the Right Call with Insight, Integrity, and Empathy, Pliner (2022) suggests that being clear about whether employees will have a view, a voice, a vote, or veto power, will greatly improve the effectiveness of the leader’s communication.

Too often leaders solicit input about decision-making without specifying how that input will be used. The challenge of this approach is that it often leads others to believe – often erroneously – that their input is synonymous with influence, authority, or decision-making power. And when it later becomes clear that the leader has gone in a different direction than was discussed, people are left feeling unheard and even betrayed.

Sharing your expectations upfront about the discussion – “I’d like your thoughts on this because I’m curious about your particular perspective” (view) or “I’d like your thoughts on this because your opinion will help inform my decision or action” (voice) helps clarify why you’re having the conversation and what role the person has or doesn’t have in decision-making.

It’s not enough to simply consider who needs to be involved in your decision-making but carefully consider how you want to involve them in order to set the right expectations and minimize the place for assumptions.


Grawitch, M. J., Gottschalk, M., & Munz, D. C. (2006). The path to a healthy workplace: A critical review linking healthy workplace practices, employee well-being, and organizational improvements. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 58(3), 129–147.

Pliner, E. (2022). Difficult Decisions: How Leaders Make the Right Call with Insight, Integrity, and Empathy. John Wiley & Sons.

To learn more about leadership communication during times of uncertainty and change, please attend our free webinar on March 15, 2024.

Why Organizational Trust Matters

By Dr. Courtney Keim
September 4, 2023

Who is the person you trust the most? For many of us, it might be a partner or spouse, a parent or family member, or a close friend. It is most likely someone you can be vulnerable with, someone you can count on when things get tough, someone you can depend on. As it turns out, trust is a crucial part of many relationships, including those at work.

Organizations function because the people in them trust one another. We trust that our coworkers will do their work well and on time, so that we can do the same. We trust that our employers will give us job security, paychecks, benefits, and opportunities in exchange for our hard work and perseverance. We trust that our employees will trust us enough to tell us when we are doing things well, and when we aren’t. Trust builds a healthy culture, where respect, fairness, and a sense of community can thrive.

But how exactly can an organization build trust? Trust is fragile, and may be particularly so in our current times. How can leaders maintain trust and persevere through times of crisis? What happens when major changes, such as new technologies, mergers, pandemics, or financial crises occur? Fortunately, research offers a solution.

Psychologically healthy workplaces are created when an organization has programs that address:

  • Work-Life balance (e.g., flextime, telework)
  • Health and safety (e.g., EAP, stress management)
  • Employee involvement (e.g., employee committees, decision-making groups)
  • Employee growth and development (e.g., training, skill development)
  • Employee recognition (e.g., employee awards, shout-outs).

My research shows that when an organization offers these programs, it builds a culture of trust, which in turn encourages employees to utilize these programs, even during times of incredible uncertainty. The outcomes are positive for both employees and employers: less stress and more motivation for workers, more productivity and less turnover for the organization.

Psychologically healthy workplaces create spaces where workers can be vulnerable and count on one another. During times of uncertainty, workers can trust that they will get through it OK, and get through it together.

To learn more about how organizations can build psychologically healthy workplaces and more about the research mentioned here, please attend our free webinar on October 6, 2023.