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Workplace Dynamics

The 5 C's of a Psychologically Healthy Workplace

How does where you work stack up against this ideal?

Key points

  • Workplaces vary in their nature and degree of psychological health.
  • The components of psychologically healthy workplaces are debatable.
  • These components do not occur naturally and require intentional creation and maintenance.

There are many qualities or hallmarks of a psychologically healthy workplace. To say that any one set is superior to another is easily debatable. As a result of examining many work settings, and frequently being asked to intervene in less-than-healthy ones, here is my proposed set of five characteristics of a psychologically healthy workplace. Do each of these seem desirable to you?


Humans make stories... about everything and everyone. Our brains are wired to try to make sense of our experiences, and because we spend so much time at work, we create plenty of stories to explain to ourselves what is happening and why. Because we’re the authors, our stories feel “right” in the sense that they mesh well with our other stories. There are stories about individual happenings, as well as collections of stories about individuals with whom we work, specific groups, and the organization overall.

A healthy workplace is comprised of people who cultivate curiosity, not only about their own stories but about others’ perspectives as well. They recognize that they lack all of the information to create the most accurate stories possible, so they don’t cling too tightly to the absolute “truth” of their story, especially when it comes to the intentions of others. Instead, they continually try to remain curious and ask questions, of themselves and others.


In addition to cultivating curiosity about everyone’s respective stories, people working in a healthy setting are considerate of each other’s feelings and differences. That certainly does not mean that everyone likes each other, or that difficult conversations are avoided for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. However, there is a core respect for each individual in the sense that no one would thoughtlessly treat a co-worker (or customer, client, etc.) in ways that could easily be experienced as hurtful or disrespectful. In this way, consideration is similar to empathy, or putting oneself in another person’s shoes.


Those working in healthy settings do not shy away from difficult conversations. When feelings are hurt, something is perceived as unfair, or someone is the villain in another person’s story, the issues are addressed directly through civil conversation. Because of the curiosity and consideration described above, difficult conversations are not threatening or negatively emotionally charged. The emphasis is on solving problems and resolving conflicts, rather than being right or defending one’s own story. Like any skill, candor becomes easier and more effective with practice and feedback.


Here the term community refers to a general sense that we are all in this together. That is, ultimately we are all on the same side. Even when we disagree and are not getting along, we feel as though we are still on the same team. The opposite of a felt sense of community is the existence of factions and cliques, which frequently lead to pointing fingers and playing the blame game when things do not go well.


Last, members of a psychologically healthy workplace are committed to building and maintaining the kind of work culture they desire. None of the components described here occur naturally or universally. They require individual and collective commitment to invest the effort and discomfort that will be required to reap the benefits. It’s when things are not going so well that commitment is required to stay the course and not give in to the natural temptation to act in ways that undermine the health of the setting.

Of course, these are not the only components of a psychologically healthy workplace, and five is an arbitrary number. Still, these factors form a solid foundation for effective work, employee satisfaction, and loyalty, regardless of the type of workplace. When all five components are present, they reinforce each other, making each component easier to build and maintain. How does your workplace compare? What might you and your co-workers try with the goal of creating the interpersonal culture you collectively want?

More from Michael W Wiederman Ph.D.
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