Psychological safety is about having a workplace culture where you are comfortable being yourself and expressing yourself—without fear of negative consequences. It's a workplace where the things you say and do won’t be used against you — as long as you act with good intentions.
When you think about it - every workplace interaction, be it a meeting, presentation or lunchtime chat includes the potential for ‘interpersonal risk-taking’. Do you tell your manager what you really think about the new business plan? Are you comfortable speaking up in a meeting about something that concerns you?
An environment where employees don’t feel safe enough to speak their minds can be detrimental to both the individual and the organisation. That person will be frustrated by their inability to do their job effectively, and the company potentially loses valuable input (and motivation) from a team member.
In extreme cases, a psychologically unsafe workplace may result from a leadership style that promotes a bullying culture—toe the line or else. Historically, certain industries had a reputation where speaking out was discouraged. Those with alternative views were seen as troublemakers or whingers. Thankfully improved health and safety programs in the workplace now include education around mental health and building a caring workplace culture.
More subtle forms of negative psychological behaviours include leaders who micro-manage their people. While they may have the best intentions, excessive control over their employees’ actions and decision-making abilities are not conducive to a happy and productive workplace.
Research undertaken by Google revealed that high psychological safety was the number one feature of high-performing teams. A safe environment doesn’t mean there is no conflict - disputes are an unavoidable risk factor in business life. However, in a safe environment, team members feel more empowered to resolve that conflict.
Alongside psychological safety, Google’s research identified four other crucial dynamics that characterise successful teams:
Structure & clarity
Meaning of work
Impact of work
Inter-personal safety and dependability are linked together by trust. A team with a strong sense of trust will work together more constructively and with a common purpose. A clear workplace structure and meaningful goals will also boost teamwork and improve employee engagement.
Does your team feel safe?
While bullying and harassment are obvious examples of unsafe behaviour, many other actions can make someone feel unsafe, including:
Lack of communication/ghosting
Bias/lack of awareness
To evaluate your workplace safety - it can be helpful to ask yourself these questions:
What happens when people in your company make mistakes?
How well do your employees work together?
How easy is it for employees to discuss difficult or sensitive issues?
Fostering a healthy workplace
The first step in creating a safe workplace is research. Find out how your employees feel about the company’s culture. You can do this through anonymous surveys and open forums. Next, work with your people to establish the goals and expectations around psychological safety. Remember - safety can mean different things to different people, so don’t assume anything.
Once the goals are in place, establish activities and opportunities that promote psychological safety and allow people to seek help, admit and learn from mistakes and challenge ideas in a supportive environment. Make sure to show appreciation when employees contribute and celebrate positive behaviours, e.g. speaking up or helping others resolve a problem.
If you want to talk about workplace psychological safety - feel free to get in touch, we are here to help.