Legal development

A View From the Exchange: a footballing lesson in psycho-safety

City skyline

    Like many, I have been disappointed by England's performances in the Men's Euros. More so, however, by the media and public reaction to those performances and the fickle nature of support for the team (**I am not exempt (sorry, Jude)**).

    We are witnessing a blueprint for how to crush the confidence, culture and spirit of a young and talented group. Players such as Foden and Kane, who play off instinct for their clubs, are now hesitating and making careless mistakes (all signs of low confidence).

    The intrinsic relationship between psychological safety and high performance transcends sport. Take financial services as an example –

    • In the UK, the FCA and PRA are currently consulting on introducing a new regulatory framework on Diversity and Inclusion (CP23/20). One aim of the proposals is to address behaviours which undermine psychological safety (such as bullying and harassment). For the FCA, "Healthy cultures that are inclusive and psychologically safe will support and allow diversity of thought to flourish."
    • In Australia, regulators have gone further. In New South Wales, for example, the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 has recently been amended to include specific requirements around managing psychological risks. This includes the obligation on employers to eliminate psychological risks so far as is reasonably practicable, or if that is not possible to minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.
    • As a result, issues of psycho-safety are becoming increasingly prominent in Ashurst's investigations work, either as the issue under investigation or a potential root cause (more on that here).

    Psycho-safety has its critics. Like professional footballers, workers in financial services are generally well-paid and (arguably) enter their respective industries fully aware of the inevitable stress and personal sacrifice involved. The argument seems to follow that these individuals should therefore 'lump it or leave'. Others argue that the stress and intensity of such work environments are important for personal development (the 'diamonds are formed under high pressure' argument).

    A potential flaw to such arguments is that they seem to conflate psychological safety with 'comfort zone' (an inhibitor to development and performance). According to Harvard academic, Amy Edmondson, psychological safety in a professional context is ‘the willingness to express an opinion in the workplace.’ On this view, psycho-safety is crucial to encouraging individuals to depart from their comfort zone and therefore a foundational pillar to high performance. In the footballing context, it is having confidence to shoot from outside of the box without fear of blasting it into tier 3 (the alternative being to pass the ball about aimlessly (**pointing no fingers**)).

    I end with one overriding observation from England's woes – we all need to feel like we have the crowd behind us (whether a single sponsor or an entire country). It's coming home.


    Author: Paul Ryan-Brown, Senior Associate

    The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to.
    Readers should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.


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