Head of PR Glorifies Toxic Workplaces: How Important is Psychological Safety at Work?

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Photo Credits: Ahmad Gunnaivi via Unsplash

Amidst the growing need for psychological safety, Qu Jing, vice president and head of PR at China’s leading search engine Baidu, has sparked a public outcry. This comes after the release of several videos of her promoting an extreme working culture on Douyin (China’s equivalent to TikTok).

Continue reading to discover exactly what was said, the public reaction, and the importance of good mental health and psychological safety from both a personal and professional perspective.

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PR Boss Supports “Always on” Culture; Says Don’t Expect Weekends Off in PR

In her series of four videos, Qu Jing endorsed an “always on” working culture, promoted strict management, and denied all responsibility for employees’ well-being. In one video, she stated “If you work in public relations, don’t expect weekends off. Keep your phone on 24 hours a day, always ready to respond.”

In another, she demonstrated strong disapproval of employees who fail to go on long business trips, boldly stating that if they are unhappy, they should resign. She added that she’d approve the resignation immediately as well. To subordinates who complained about her management methods, she said: “I can make it impossible for you to find a job in this industry with just a short essay.”

Read: Psychological Safety and Employer Duty:
How to Curb Psychological Stress to Ensure Happier Workplaces

Ms Jing’s videos have generated extreme reactions, with many viewers criticising her aggression, insensitivity, and lack of empathy. One tech analyst defended Ms Jing’s statements, saying that “this is what the bosses are thinking, and she was merely saying it out aloud.”

Ms Jing, however, has since deleted the videos and released a public apology, confirming that they were not reflective of Baidu’s stance on workplace culture. Posting on China’s social media platform WeChat, Ms Jing wrote: “I will learn from my mistakes, improve the way I communicate, and care more for my colleagues”. It has also been reported by CNN that a meeting was held by co-founder, Robin Li, where these comments were addressed, and since then, Ms Jing has lost her job.

Mental Health Awareness Week – Moving For Our Mental Health

This week (13-19 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme, as set by the Mental Health Foundation, is “moving for our mental health”, inspiring the hashtag #NoMindLeftBehind.

Physical activity has a positive impact on our bodies and minds and has been scientifically proven to lessen anxiety, improve depression, and often prevent various types of physical illness. Exercise causes our bodies to release endorphins which naturally raise our moods and, according to a survey of 2,060 people conducted by Mental Health UK, 56% said that regular exercise helped them with stress management.

There are many ways in which employers can engage with Mental Health Awareness Week. In keeping with this year’s theme, many are encouraging employees to integrate some form of physical activity into their working day. Some are injecting a little friendly competition this week by, for instance, monitoring and rewarding different teams’ collective step counts. Others are organising sponsored floor walks or stair climbs to fund-raise for various mental health charities.

Read: Content Moderation Staff Repeatedly Take Leave
To Deal With Mental Health Issues  

Many employees who might prefer to keep their participation in Mental Health Awareness Week private, are choosing to walk to work and take the stairs rather than the elevator. All of this constitutes physical activity which will help to boost mental well-being.

However, as positive as employer engagement with Mental Health Awareness Week is, this should be an ongoing involvement with employees’ mental well-being and psychological safety.

Employee Psychological Safety: Creating a Safe Space at Work

Psychological safety is when employees can express themselves freely without fear of negative consequences. At work, this means the employees’ ability to ask questions, voice ideas, share concerns, give feedback, and even challenge policies and ways of working, without having to worry about potential penalties or judgements.

Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, Sean Childerley, has highlighted the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. He says, “When the fear is removed people feel included, safe to express themselves, to be creative, to learn and contribute, as well as challenge the status quo or ‘the way things are done around here’,” he explains. He further adds that psychological safety satisfies the basic human need of connection. That connection then allows people space to grow and learn.

Further, a study conducted by Google has shown that employees who felt psychologically safe at work demonstrated increased productivity and experienced greater levels of employee satisfaction.

Read: Stress Awareness Month: Worker Compensation For Stress at Work Claims

Psychological safety, then, is crucial to a healthy work environment and has a significant impact on both employees’ mental well-being and overall business success. Employers can help to ensure psychological safety at work by

  1. fostering an open and inclusive workplace culture:
  2. encouraging employees to express themselves freely, recognising contributions, and
  3. empowering employees with autonomy over their work.

Given the positive effects of psychological safety, the public reaction to Ms Jing’s pronouncements is understandable. Her rigid approach to extreme working and dismissive attitude towards employee wellness is likely to achieve the complete opposite of psychological safety within Baidu. Managers should lead by example, showing their vulnerabilities, inviting feedback, and demonstrating a willingness to listen.

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