As human beings, we have some needs that have to be fulfilled in order for us to survive – but also to flourish. Whilst you might be able to manage these needs in your personal life, we spend such a significant amount of time at work that it’s also important to make sure that we feel safe and secure in this environment, too. All for the sake of our psychological safety.
Especially for those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to choose which roles we want to take, being able to bring your ideas and perspectives to work can be key in feeling like a company is right for you. And for employers, a good cultural fit is vital for staff engagement and reducing turnover.
Here, we delve into the concept of psychological safety, in order to understand what it means in the context of the workplace, what to look out for, and how it can be improved.
What is psychological safety in the workplace?
In any work environment, it’s important to feel like you can speak up without fear of retribution. This feeling is known as psychological safety, and it’s essential for fostering open communication and creativity. When team members feel like they can take risks without being ridiculed or penalized, they’re more likely to share new ideas and challenge the status quo.
There are four stages of psychological safety:
- Inclusion safety, where you feel able to express your personality
- Learner safety, where you feel able to give and receive feedback, and make mistakes
- Contributor safety, where you feel like you’re making a difference
- Challenger safety, where you feel like you can speak up when things need to improve
At its core, psychological safety is about creating a workplace where all employees feel comfortable taking risks and speaking up. This might mean challenging the status quo or offering new ideas, but it also includes more everyday interactions, such as asking for help or offering feedback.
Why is psychological safety at work important?
When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to be engaged and productive, as they feel like they’re able to add value to their workplace – in essence, they matter to the bigger picture. In contrast, when employees feel unsafe, they are more likely to disengage and withhold their best work from their team.
After a two year study on team performance conducted by Google, they got to the conclusion that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety.
As you can guess, psychological safety is essential for building a positive workplace culture. If employees feel supported and valued, they are more likely to be loyal and committed to their organization. Additionally, companies with high levels of psychological safety tend to be more innovative and adaptive, as team members feel able to bring fresh ideas to the table, regardless of what level of seniority they hold in the organization.
It also reduces the level of risk around decision making – if all employees feel able to raise their concerns and offer alternative solutions, it can help businesses avoid decisions that could potentially be harmful to their bottom line or reputation.
How can psychological safety in the workplace be measured?
Of course, it’s great to be committed to promoting psychological safety in the workplace – but how exactly can you measure something you can’t see? Especially when poor psychological safety means that employees won’t feel comfortable about speaking up, it can be hard to understand if you’re doing a good job or not. Luckily, there are a few key things to look out for.
Send a periodic pulse survey and gather employee feedback
One way to measure psychological safety is through pulse surveys. They can help us to identify patterns and trends in how employees feel about taking risks and speaking up. Deciding whether these are anonymous or not can be a difficult balance – on one hand, anonymity might mean that employees are more honest about their feelings, but on the other hand, it makes it impossible to follow up on any glaring issues.
Using an employee engagement software can help you automate the process of sending pulse surveys on a regular basis. You and your managers will always have your people’s pulse, helping to make better decisions thanks to having the right insights in real time.
It is also an opportunity to gather feedback. It will help you identify issues to solve in the workplace, a mobbing or harassment situation and prevent burnout. In the end, your goal is to take care of your team’s psychological safety.
Another way to measure psychological safety is through observation. By observing employee behavior, we can get a sense of whether or not people feel comfortable taking risks and speaking up. That doesn’t just mean extroverts, or senior team members – you should be seeing input across the board, whether that’s verbally in meetings, or written feedback.
If you’re not getting both positive feedback and constructive feedback, think about how you can facilitate this, and create an environment where everyone feels comfortable. Having periodic 1:1 meetings and/or performance reviews may help you with this. They are also a great opportunity to ask an employee directly if they are going through a hard time in the company.
Ways to improve psychological safety at work
Of course, creating a safe environment doesn’t happen overnight. It requires ongoing effort from everyone in the organization, from senior leaders down to individual employees. But the benefits are well worth the effort, making psychological safety an essential ingredient for any successful organization.
Especially in a hybrid or fully remote workplace, leaders must facilitate everyone being able to give feedback. It’s not easy to jump in on a conversation, so using initiatives like the raised hand in virtual calls or asking around the room as standard can mean that quieter team members are given the chance to speak up.
A big part of psychological safety is not being afraid of failure. In many companies, mistakes are framed as being shameful rather than being a learning opportunity – employers can help change this narrative by owning their mistakes, and sharing them with the wider team. Especially in a hierarchical model, junior team members can benefit from seeing that everyone makes mistakes – even board members. This creates an environment that doesn’t shy away from trying new things for fear of failure.
It’s understandable that freeing up space for everyone to share their views may also create some conflict. As a result, it can be helpful to introduce conflict resolution training as a standard, or promote emotional intelligence among your team. By doing so, these disagreements won’t put off employees from speaking their minds in the future – as well as teaching those who are used to sharing their opinion how to listen to others.
A psychologically safe team leads towards employee engagement
Psychological safety is essential for employee engagement and well-being, and it’s important that everyone works together to create an environment where open communication is normal. Employers should also make sure to regularly check in on what is going on with their team. Some examples of what can be done are:
By doing so, you can look for improvements to make, identify signs of burnout in your team, get to know more of your people and ensure employee engagement. In the end, by being a company that worries about psychological safety, you end up not only taking care of your team’s mental health, but you also boost their performance on the way!