- Psychological safety is about allowing employees to take interpersonal risks without fearing negative consequences. It promotes an open environment where ideas and opinions can be freely expressed.
- Psychological safety and psychological health, though interconnected, are distinct. The former involves the context of interpersonal interactions, while the latter concerns an individual’s mental state and well-being.
- Low psychological safety can manifest as prolonged project timelines, reduced contribution of ideas, a rampant rumor mill, high absenteeism, increased presenteeism, and high staff turnover.
- Creating psychological safety involves being vulnerable, transparent, fair, curious, and reasonable as a leader.
- Regular employee surveys can help measure psychological safety in the workplace.
The Concept of Psychological Safety
When we think about safety in the workplace, our minds often gravitate towards physical hazards and preventive measures. However, another facet of safety, often overlooked, is psychological safety. This concept is the linchpin that holds together a collaborative, innovative, and inclusive work environment.
Coined by Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, the term “psychological safety” refers to a shared belief among team members that they are safe to take interpersonal risks. This encompasses speaking one’s mind, expressing innovative ideas, admitting mistakes, and more, all without fear of negative consequences.
Psychological safety is vital to fostering an environment that encourages creativity, learning, and growth. It’s a key aspect of a healthy workplace, where employees feel secure, respected, and able to contribute fully to the team’s efforts.
Why Psychological Safety Matters
Psychological safety goes beyond just being a nice-to-have. It’s a crucial element that impacts how efficiently and effectively a business operates. If employees don’t feel psychologically safe, trust in the employer erodes, and the entire business may suffer.
It’s no surprise that when people feel safe sharing ideas, concerns, and questions, the company is more agile and adaptable. This openness allows organizations to identify and rectify errors, implement improvements, and adapt to changes more quickly. Conversely, when psychological safety is lacking, employees may fear criticism, hold back on sharing ideas, and resist new initiatives.
Moreover, psychological safety extends to the overall work-life balance of employees. A psychologically safe workplace allows employees to be their authentic selves. When employees feel safe and valued as individuals, they tend to be more invested in the success of the organization.
The Distinction: Psychological Safety versus Psychological Health
While psychological safety is linked to psychological health, it’s essential to understand they are not synonymous. Psychological health refers to an individual’s mental well-being, encompassing emotional regulation, self-esteem, stress management, and resilience. Psychological safety, on the other hand, is a crucial component of a psychologically healthy workplace, which allows employees to voice their thoughts and ideas without fear of retribution.
A psychologically safe workplace can certainly contribute to better psychological health. Employees who feel safe and supported tend to experience less stress and anxiety, leading to better overall well-being. However, the distinction between the two is vital, as it underlines the importance of creating a supportive work environment that promotes both psychological safety and health.
Indicators of a Psychologically Unsafe Workplace
Identifying a psychologically unsafe workplace can be challenging, but certain red flags may signal a lack of psychological safety:
- Projects taking too long to roll out: If employees fear retribution, they may choose to remain silent and carry on with uncertainties, leading to slower project rollouts.
- Limited idea sharing and question asking: If meetings are dominated by top-down decision-making with minimal contribution from team members, it may suggest a lack of psychological safety.
- A rampant rumor mill: Unclear or undisclosed decisions can lead to speculation, rumors, and a lack of trust within the organization.
- High absenteeism: A high rate of unplanned leave or sickness absence may signal a psychologically unsafe environment.
- High presenteeism: Employees showing up to work even when unwell or staying connected to work outside office hours might be a sign of low psychological safety.
- High staff turnover: When employees feel they don’t have a voice, they may opt for roles elsewhere where open discourse is encouraged.
Building Psychological Safety in the Workplace
Dr. Timothy Clark outlines four stages to achieving psychological safety – inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, and challenger safety. Here’s how leaders can foster psychological safety at every stage:
- Be Vulnerable: Leaders should not be afraid to admit their mistakes or uncertainties. Demonstrating vulnerability builds trust and encourages open communication.
- Be Transparent: Communicate openly, honestly, and frequently. Transparency fosters an environment of trust and respect.
- Be Fair: Examine your company’s practices to ensure fairness. Look at pathways to promotions, compensation, rewards, and how remote workers are treated.
- Be Curious: Foster a culture of learning by demonstrating curiosity. Ask questions, encourage problem-solving, and don’t assume the status quo is always correct.
- Be Reasonable: Don’t set unrealistic expectations. Respect employees’ personal lives and trust them to manage their workload effectively.
Measuring Psychological Safety
Psychological safety, like any other aspect of an organization, can be measured. Regular employee surveys provide valuable insights into the level of psychological safety within the workplace. These surveys should be designed to elicit honest feedback and provide actionable insights, allowing leaders to continually monitor and improve the workplace’s psychological safety.
In conclusion, cultivating psychological safety in the workplace is not just beneficial but vital for the success of any organization. It creates an environment that enables employees to bring their full selves to work, encouraging innovation, collaboration, and overall well-being. By understanding and implementing psychological safety, organizations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and drive business success.