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As the landscape of the workplace continues to rapidly evolve after the pandemic, managers, leaders and business owners are held to a higher standard of performance than ever before.  While we have heard much about Emotional Intelligence and developing factors of authenticity and empathy in our leaders, there is another component which is imperative for the individual:  Psychological Safety.

Psychological safety refers to an environment in which individuals feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of negative consequences such as ridicule or punishment. This concept has gained increasing attention in recent years as organizations recognize the benefits of creating a psychologically safe workplace.

 

What is Psychological Safety?

Maybe you equate it with a feel-good “safe space” or think managers must create it to help employees enjoy work. Or maybe you just brush it aside as an emotion that shouldn’t hold us back from getting work done.

Psychological safety is a feeling of trust and confidence that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. It is a sense that one’s contributions will be respected and valued, even if they are different or challenging to the prevailing views or practices.

Psychological safety isn’t warm and fuzzy.

Often misunderstood as being comfortable or agreeable, psychological safety is present when employees feel they’re part of an environment where challenge, conflict, and mistakes are valued, and learning is a team sport. Hallmarks of a psychologically safe environment are seen when individuals can take risks, experiment, and fail — without fear of repercussions.

Psychological safety is not the same as being comfortable or feeling good all the time. It doesn’t mean that everyone always agrees, or that conflict never arises. Rather, psychological safety enables people to engage in open and honest dialogue, share feedback, experiment with new ideas, and take calculated risks – all of which are essential to innovation, learning, and growth.

In the workplace this translates to employees feeling comfortable speaking up, sharing ideas, asking questions, expressing concerns and acknowledging mistakes.

 

Why is Psychological Safety Important in the Workplace?

Psychological safety is important in the workplace for several reasons. Here are a few:

  1. Better Communication and Collaboration: When people feel safe to speak up, they are more likely to share information, ask for help, and provide feedback. This leads to better communication and collaboration among team members, which improves productivity, creativity, and innovation.
  2. Increased Learning and Development: When people feel safe to make mistakes and take risks, they are more likely to experiment, try new approaches, and learn from their experiences. This leads to increased learning and development, which benefits individuals and the organization as a whole.
  3. Improved Well-Being and Engagement: When people feel safe and supported at work, they are more likely to feel positive about their job, their colleagues, and their organization. This improves well-being and engagement, which can lead to better job performance, retention, and satisfaction.
  4. Better Decision-Making and Problem-Solving: When people feel safe to express their ideas and opinions, they are more likely to contribute to decision-making and problem-solving. This leads to better outcomes for the organization as a whole.

How Can Psychological Safety be Cultivated in the Workplace?

Cultivating psychological safety in the workplace requires intentional effort from leaders, managers, and team members. Here are some strategies:

  1. Lead by Example: Leaders and managers should model the behavior they want to see in others. They should be open to feedback, admit mistakes, and encourage dialogue and dissent.
  2. Encourage and Reward Risk-Taking: Leaders and managers should encourage and reward individuals and teams for taking calculated risks, experimenting with new ideas, and learning from their experiences.
  3. Foster Inclusivity and Diversity: Leaders and managers should create an inclusive environment that values diversity of thought, perspective, and background. They should actively seek out and listen to different viewpoints and experiences.
  4. Provide Opportunities for Learning and Development: Leaders and managers should provide opportunities for individuals and teams to learn, grow, and develop their skills and abilities. This can include training, coaching, mentoring, and job rotations.
  5. Establish Clear Expectations and Guidelines: Leaders and managers should establish clear expectations and guidelines for behavior and communication in the workplace. This can help prevent misunderstandings, conflicts, and hurt feelings.

Surprisingly, creating psychological safety isn’t just about the actions of a single person. It’s about a shared set of interactional behaviors aimed at common goals, created by the group.  Teams become cohesive and effective, by setting achievable, intrinsically motivating goals. Thus, when groups of individuals share a sense of belonging, this engages a part in the brain that intrinsically rewards prosocial behavior and leads to an increased level of neural synchrony. Once established, working together toward common goals and being motivated to achieve them are more likely.

Wrap-up

Psychological safety is essential for creating a workplace environment that fosters communication, collaboration, learning, and innovation. By cultivating psychological safety, organizations can improve employee well-being, engagement, and job performance, as well as decision-making and problem-solving.

Sources

  • Edmondson, A. C., & Bransby, D. P. (2023). Psychological safety comes of age: Observed themes in an established literature. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 10(1), 55–78. (Click to View)

  • Edmondson, A. C. (2018). The fearless organization: Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth. John Wiley & Sons.

  • Newman, A., Donohue, R., & Eva, N. (2017). Psychological safety: A systematic review of the literature. Human Resource Management Review27(3), 521-535.(Click to View)

  • Stomski, L., & Jensen, K. (2021). Building learning agility through psychological safety. In V. S. Harvey & K. P. De Meuse (Eds.), The age of agility: Building learning agile leaders and organizations (pp. 365–381). Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology; Oxford University Press. ( Click to View )

Katrina Murphy

Katrina Murphy

Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.

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