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December 15, 2022 - 6 minutes

What is Psychological Safety at Work?

It may seem like a challenge to find, but psychologically safe workplaces are on the rise. 

Juliette Carreiro - Tech Writer

Creating a work environment where everyone is welcome and heard is a goal of the vast majority of companies, but the harsh reality is that many employees are scared to speak up or don’t feel like they are a critical part of the team. This is where psychological safety at work comes into play; a psychologically safe workplace is where employees feel comfortable speaking up, sharing ideas, and feel safe taking interpersonal risks. 

Generally speaking, psychological safety is built on these four pillars: feeling included, safe to learn, safe to contribute, and safe to challenge the status quo. 

Why is Psychological Safety at Work Important? 

It may seem like a no-brainer, but employees are more likely to stay at companies where they feel valued and seen. And that’s not all: 

  • Psychological safety at work creates happier teams.

  • Employees in safe workplaces produce better results and have higher engagement.

  • Happier employees stay at companies for longer, lowering recruitment costs and minimizing the need for new training and onboarding. 

Benefits of psychological safety in the workplace

  1. Better ideas 

Brainstorming is a crucial part of any team’s work and sometimes lots and lots of ideas are needed to truly launch a new project. When team members feel safe and comfortable proposing ideas, you’re more likely to find the right one. On the other hand, however, if they are unsure about offering thoughts to the team due to fear of rejection, that perfect idea might slip through the cracks. 

2. Less problems 

Have you ever caught a small problem in the working stages of a project or had a doubt about an idea that a colleague was presenting? It’s crucial that any doubts are raised ASAP, but employees who aren’t comfortable speaking up will let it pass; this could create a much larger problem in the future if the project is already in production or submitted to the client. 

3. Reduced risks 

When employees feel comfortable at work, they’re more likely to report quality problems, HR concerns, or security issues. In addition to this leading to more success at a company level, it also reduces health & safety and/or non-compliance issues. 

4. Better company reputation

Employees want to be happy at their job; no one wants to be on the job hunt constantly. And companies also benefit from less turnover, with reduced HR and onboarding costs, not to mention the reputation companies can build of unhappy employees. Pleased employees will also help a company find new talent through talking positively about their experience. 

5. Diversity & inclusion

A room of like-minded people from the same background might work well together in principle, but bringing diversity and inclusion to the workplace opens the door to new opportunities, ideas, and growth. A crucial pillar of diversity and inclusion is that everyone at the table has the chance to speak and be heard; companies that curate an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas are ones with positive psychological safety. 

Psychological Safety in Your Workplace

How can I determine the psychological safety of my workplace? 

As an ever-changing metric with lots of moving parts, it can be hard to accurately measure a workplace’s level of psychological safety. But to get an idea, create a survey for employees, asking them to rank a few statements on a scale from 1-10. You can tailor these statements to your specific line of work, but here’s some ideas: 

  • I am comfortable suggesting new ideas to the team. 

  • I feel that my ideas are valued. 

  • No one on the team feels like an outsider. 

  • Mistakes aren’t held against the person who makes them.

  • I am comfortable asking for help. 

  • My skills are valued and put into use on my team. 

Once you have the results of this survey, compile the responses and try to answer these questions. This can help you see the level of current psychological safety at your workplace and areas for improvement: 

  • Are employees comfortable making mistakes? 

  • How helpful are employees? 

  • Can employees be themselves? 

Improving psychological safety in the workplace

Have you surveyed employees and can see areas of improvement? Don’t worry, we’re here to help. Here are five steps to improving psychological safety in the workplace: 

  1. Find out what’s wrong

Where exactly are these problem areas? Are they specific to a particular team or is it a general feeling across the entire organization? Senior leadership can have a tough time connecting with employees; use a survey to collect information and go from there. 

2. Practice feedback

A crucial part of safe workplaces is being able to suggest ideas without judgment or make mistakes without feeling shamed or less-than. An absolutely necessary skill all employees need is how to give effective and constructive feedback; practice giving positive feedback with the team and you’ll see a difference in no time. 

3. Get to know the team and what their needs are

We’ve all heard the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. And as great as that sounds, we have a little secret: it’s not that simple. Everyone has different needs and ways of doing things - the team must learn how to communicate with each other in conducive ways that both solve problems and are specific to the needs of each employee. 

4. Promote healthy conflict 

Trying to create a work environment that’s conflict-free and everyone is in agreement is a fever dream, sorry! Conflict will happen and that’s good; healthy conflict can help new ideas form and allow the team to challenge accepted ideas. However, lots of people shy away from conflict, especially in the workplace. Try framing any conflicts as a win-win situation, using points from both sides to meet in the middle with an even stronger idea. And, of course, make sure both parties feel that their ideas and contributions are valuable. 

5. Make sure workplace culture is strong

A strong workplace culture correlates strongly with psychological safety at work; here are the pillars of culture at work: 

  • Leadership/management: do employees feel seen by upper management and are comfortable sharing ideas or suggestions? 

  • Workplace practices: is the free time of employees and their personal lives respected? 

  • Policies and philosophies: do employees have flexible benefit packages and remote working opportunities? 

  • People: is the company made up of diverse people from different backgrounds with a variety of skills to contribute? 

  • Mission, vision, and values: are employees aware of the company’s mission, vision, and values and feel comfortable speaking up when something goes against it? 

  • Work environment: are employees given the space to work as a team and solve conflicts, such as meeting rooms or private areas?

The importance of psychological safety has skyrocketed over the past few years and it’s more important than ever before to retain talent and create a safe work environment for all team members. Are you ready to put what you’ve learned into practice?

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