How to improve employee retention – Part 1 – Protection From Harm

17th July 2023
Protect from Harm

This article is part of a series of articles on how to improve employee wellbeing and employee retention. The structure is based on the The US Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well‑Being, and each week we will be looking at each “essential” in the framework. 

The full list of articles is:

  1. An introduction to the US Surgeon General’s framework
  2. Protection From Harm
  3. Connection & Community – coming soon
  4. Work-Life Harmony – coming soon
  5. Mattering at Work – coming soon
  6. Opportunity for Growth – coming soon

This week, we are looking at “protection from harm”. This is arguably the most important “essential” and the one that must be addressed first before tackling the others. And like the Physiological need in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if this “essential” is not addressed it actually causes demotivation in the workplace. People who do not feel “protected from harm” will actively search for new employment.

So, in the context of the wellbeing framework, what does “protection from harm” mean?

According to the framework – “Workplace safety means all workers are in a safe and healthful work environment, protected from physical harm, injury, illness, and death.” “ as well as psychological harm such as bias, discrimination, emotional hostility, bullying, and harassment.” “Security builds on safety to include financial, and job security,”

People need to feel they are safe from harm, both physically and mentally, and they have financial and job security.

For an employer this means they need to:

  1. Prioritise workplace physical and psychological safety
  2. Normalise and support mental health
  3. Operationalise Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. 

Please note, none of the above are “nice to haves”, they are essential for all workplaces that want their team to feel happy. If an employee does not feel physically and psychologically safe they will actively look for new employment.

What steps can be taken to help an employee feel physically and mentally safe?

  1. Prioritise workplace physical and psychological safety

Workers need to feel physically safe at work. 

Workplace physical safety isn’t generally an issue in the IT industry, however prioritising workplace design to ensure workers are comfortable shouldn’t be neglected. Not sure how to create an ergonomic work station? Check out this article.

Working long hours can be an issue in some IT companies, therefore policies need to be created to prevent it happening. Policies that reward staff based on performance need to be reviewed to ensure they don’t unexpectedly significantly increase working times as a consequence.

Psychological Safety

Anyone who follows Secret Source will be aware of the importance we put on Psychological Safety. Psychological safety is when you feel safe, in a group environment, to ask questions, speak up and challenge others without fear of criticism or retribution. Psychological Safety is the most important characteristic in high performing teams (See the Google Study in 2012), however it is also critical to help people feel safe in the workplace. To learn more about psychological safety please see our article from 2022, however, in summary there are 3 steps you need to follow to build a culture of psychological safety in your team:

  1. Educate your team what it is
  2. Build personal bonds
  3. Measure it regularly. 

Your team needs to know what a psychologically safe team looks like and how they can improve the feeling of safety for others.

Enable adequate rest

We all know the importance of sleep. It is argued that adequate sleep is one of the three pillars of a healthy lifestyle (with good diet and regular exercise). Lack of sleep increases anxiety, depression and a myriad of mental and physical health issues. 

Whilst, as a company, you cannot directly affect the amount of sleep your employees get (even though some have tried), ensuring that they do not work long hours and excessive overtime will go a long way to helping your team feel safe. Disabling access to work communication out of hours and during holidays is a good option.

Normalise and support mental health

Whilst awareness of mental health issues, and policies to address it in the workplace have increased significantly in the last decade, in many companies, a lot of work still needs to be done. 

Clearly, most companies are not experts in mental health provision and are not expected to support their team when professional assistance is required, however leaders and managers need to normalise inclusivity and promote mental health care. The team need to know that mental health care is easily accessible if needed. We use the excellent Alan Health, however any health policy with good mental health support will, most likely, suffice.

Operationalise Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) norms, policies, and programs

Everyone knows that having a diverse workforce will supercharge a company. Ask a room of 100 similar people a question and you’ll get one answer, ask a room of 100 different people and you’ll get a 100 answers. 

However inclusivity and accessibility is also critical for a workforce to feel safe.

A diverse workforce though, does not happen naturally, and companies often need to take positive actions to increase the diversity of their workforce. When talking about the IT industry in particular,  the ratio of male : female employees is heavily weighted towards men, with over 90% of programmers being male. Consequently, many companies struggle building a diverse team. A problem that is especially difficult for smaller teams who want to hire their first female employee once they’ve built a core male team. We mentor a few startup IT companies and when we ask them about diversity we often hear, “we had no female applicants” “how can we increase diversity when no women apply to our jobs?”

When we were a smaller team and we struggled with diversity we sought advice on how to improve the number of women developers we had. On viewing our team page on our website, we were told … “would you feel more comfortable applying to a company where everybody looked like you? Or one where they didn’t?” 

If you currently have an about us page filled with men, you may find it more difficult to attract female applicants. 

There are many solutions to increasing diversity but, in the IT industry you will need to take positive action, this may be rewriting your job ads or introducing benefits that specifically help female employees

Salary / job security

You’re probably thinking – what about salary? Surely receiving a fair salary is fundamental. It is. You need to feel you are receiving a fair salary for your work, however, we will talk about what a fair salary means, and why it is important, in the fourth essential on “mattering at work”.

A feeling of job security is, however, arguably even more important. 

Employees need to feel that their job is safe and there is no threat they will lose it. There is an interesting phenomenon in HR called “survivor syndrome”. After a planned restructuring or planned redundancy program, companies often experience higher than average employee turnover. It is believed this is because employees no longer feel safe in their work, even though they had been the ones that had been retained. It is therefore essential that employees feel, at all times, that their job is secure. 

Therefore, any company communication that mentions falls in profit or loss of clients needs to be handled with care. Any “negative” news can be interpreted as a threat to their feeling of job security, even though it might not be.

“Protection from harm” is the first essential in workplace wellbeing and, arguably the most important. If employees don’t feel safe from physical and psychological harm they will actively search for new employment.

If you are struggling with employee retention in your IT team and want to share your experiences and get some practical advice, feel free to get in touch. It’s our mission to share our knowledge, and we love to help – just email our CEO at [email protected].

Alternatively, if you are looking to augment your existing team or outsource some of your development and want to learn more about how we use the science of happiness to build highly skilled, stable, collaborative teams please contact us via the form below, or just book an appointment with our account manager, Sarah, at

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