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Communication and psychological safety in veterans health administration work environments

Nancy J. Yanchus (Veterans Health Administration National Centre for Organization Development, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)
Ryan Derickson (Veterans Health Administration National Centre for Organization Development, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)
Scott C. Moore (Veterans Health Administration National Centre for Organization Development, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)
Daniele Bologna (Department of Psychology, University of Cincinnati, Maineville, Ohio, USA)
Katerine Osatuke (Veterans Health Administration National Centre for Organization Development, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Publication date: 11 November 2014

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore employee perceptions of communication in psychologically safe and unsafe clinical care environments.

Design/methodology/approach

Clinical providers at the USA Veterans Health Administration were interviewed as part of planning organizational interventions. They discussed strengths, weaknesses, and desired changes in their workplaces. A subset of respondents also discussed workplace psychological safety (i.e. employee perceptions of being able to speak up or report errors without retaliation or ostracism – Edmondson, 1999). Two trained coders analysed the interview data using a grounded theory-based method. They excerpted passages that discussed job-related communication and summarized specific themes. Subsequent analyses compared frequencies of themes across workgroups defined as having psychologically safe vs unsafe climate based upon an independently administered employee survey.

Findings

Perceptions of work-related communication differed across clinical provider groups with high vs low psychological safety. The differences in frequencies of communication-related themes across the compared groups matched the expected pattern of problem-laden communication characterizing psychologically unsafe workplaces.

Originality/value

Previous research implied the existence of a connection between communication and psychological safety whereas this study offers substantive evidence of it. The paper summarized the differences in perceptions of communication in high vs low psychological safety environments drawing from qualitative data that reflected clinical providers’ direct experience on the job. The paper also illustrated the conclusions with multiple specific examples. The findings are informative to health care providers seeking to improve communication within care delivery teams.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the research investigators and do not necessarily represent the view of the Department of Veterans Affairs or US Government.

Citation

J. Yanchus, N., Derickson, R., C. Moore, S., Bologna, D. and Osatuke, K. (2014), "Communication and psychological safety in veterans health administration work environments", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 28 No. 6, pp. 754-776. https://doi.org/10.1108/JHOM-12-2012-0241

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited