What Is Psychological Safety at Work?

By Predictive Success  |  

7.4 min read

Psychological Safety

Many studies have been and continue to be conducted on the importance of having a diverse work team. Not only do the researchers prove diversity to be necessary, but so do the Human Resources teams and CEOs of most organizations.

Having a variety of different people on a team will bring new ideas with different ways of looking at the world. The benefits of diversity are that they can view negative situations and come up with unique ways to solve them, rather than relying on people with similar thought processes.

However, there can be obstacles that employees may encounter where they do not feel like speaking their opinions. Sometimes people stay silent even when they have great ideas or thoughts because they are nervous about receiving a negative reaction from their peers and superiors.

Some employees feel that their opinions will be shut down and not taken seriously, making them less likely to speak up again. In a recent study by Gallup, it was found that 3 out of 10 employees agree that their opinions are not taken seriously at work.

When leaders of an organization do not take their employee’s suggestions into their decisions, they are not building a psychologically safe workplace. This does not foster a positive environment for workers to share their thoughts, and could lead to losing employees, which can have a negative impact on the business.

It is important that employees feel at ease speaking their ideas, questions, or concerns at work, so that they feel respected, can learn more, and can help prevent issues at the workplace. Creating a space that allows for any team member to open up about their thoughts with others and listened to with honest discourse, will develop a better working environment for all.

A psychologically safe workplace does not mean that are no conflicts or negative issues. It is simply about how these negative and difficult situations are dealt with, that employees will be heard, and that there is a sense of mutual trust and respect among all the staff.

What is psychological safety at work?

To ensure that employers consider the psychological safety at work, it is important to understand exactly what it means. According to Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction, the psychological safety definition is:

  • One that promotes employees’ psychological well-being and actively works to prevent harm to employee psychological health due to negligent, reckless, or intentional acts.

Creating this kind of environment where psychological safety is always considered and where employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts without discrimination will elevate the business and the people who work for it.

What are the four stages of psychological safety at work?

Creating a psychologically safe work environment requires staff members to have trust and respect in others, will allow employees to open up and share their ideas to create mutual growth.

Develop a workplace atmosphere where employees feel like they belong and where they feel like their needs are met will allow them to thrive. The importance of employee acceptance within the organization can set them on the path for success and growth.

Dr. Timothy Clark, author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation explains in his book that employees need to go through four stages before they are comfortable making serious suggestions that could have an impact on the business. The 4 stages are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Inclusion Safety: The first stage is all about the basic human need to connect and belong. During this stage, people feel comfortable being themselves and are accepted for being their authentic self, which includes unique character traits and quirks.
  • Stage 2: Learner Safety: This stage is where people feel safe learning, growing, and exchanging thoughts with others. This part of the learning process is where many questions are asked, feedback is exchanged, practicing happens, and making mistakes that they can learn from.
  • Stage 3: Contributor Safety: This is the stage that will satisfy the human need to make a difference. This is where you are at ease using your specific skills, talent, and abilities to make a contribution that you feel proud of.
  • Stage 4: Challenger Safety: During the challenger safety stage, people will have the need to improve a situation. Individuals will feel safe to express themselves, and will give feedback and input where they see improvements can be made.

5 ways management can create psychological safety at work

Management can help employees transition through the 4 stages so that they are able to get to a place where they are at ease with sharing their thoughts, developing a psychologically safe work environment. The following are 5 ways how to build psychological safety at your workplace:

1. Be an engaged leader

If you expect your employees to pay attention when you are speaking, or take your feedback and instructions seriously, you have to do the same for them. It is up to you to create and maintain a safe environment where employees can be heard and accepted.

Being engaged and actively listening during conversations and meetings with others will set the example for others to follow suite. Consider your body language, that you are looking people in the eyes, and are giving others your full attention without any distractions. If you are scrolling through your phone, typing away on your laptop, or not showing interest when others are speaking, it will create negative emotional safety at work, while also having a negative impact on how employees value your thoughts.

2. Establish positive growth when mistakes happen

When mistakes happen, it is important as leaders to react without blame and consider how to use this as a learning moment. Encourage a discussion about what can be improved upon and how this moment can teach everyone to avoid making the same mistake.

Instead of making the employee feel bad for their mistake, ask how the team can ensure a better outcome next time. Creating team psychological safety by putting an emphasis on collaborative language will allow for problem-solving, growth and innovation for all, rather than disappointment for one.

3. Get input from your employees when making decision

Another tip for how to build psychological safety at work is to include your team when making choices, especially about those that will directly impact them. Asking for employee’s input, feedback, and suggestions will help the organization achieve success.

Being open and honest about how management made their choices and how the team’s thoughts contributed to their decision-making process will create a more understanding situation. While not everyone may like the decision that was made, at least it will be clear how it was decided, and will build a more trusting work relationship.

Give credit to those who gave constructive feedback, especially when those new and great ideas are successfully implemented. Acknowledging employees when they have contributed to achievements for the organization will strengthen psychological safety at work.

4. Zero-tolerance for negative behaviour

Having an employee that is being negative can quickly cause a negative impact on others and their work. One of best psychological safety examples is to eliminate negativity as soon as possible, by having a private discussion with the employee and make it clear that being negative towards others will not be allowed.

If management ignores or does not properly address the negativity, this may lead to further negative impacts. Creating a workplace where negative situations are quickly extinguished will build a psychologically safe work environment for all.

5. Encourage your employees

Building a psychologically safe workplace requires a supportive and encouraging manager to motivate employees to achieve goals and create success. Encouraging your team with their small and big challenges, and recognizing their accomplishments will entice them to continue striving for more wins.

Having a leader that has pride in their team will boost morale, produce better outcomes, strengthen their bond to their work, and will make them proud as well.

Getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of your employees will allow you to use each person’s skills in the best way possible. It was also provide you with the knowledge on areas where they may need a little extra help and encouragement.

Creating psychological safety in the workplace benefits everyone

Working in an organization where employees are trusted, taken seriously, encouraged, and where they feel comfortable being themselves will help improve upon their overall performance. Having psychological safety at work will free employees to explore new ideas, furthering their education, and will create a stronger connection to their work. Employees will be less likely to look for work elsewhere if they have a healthy attachment to their team.

Creating a culture of transparency, trust, appreciation, and compassion will attract similarly minded employees that care about their work and their team. Promoting positivity will develop a more welcoming work atmosphere where new ideas are encouraged, which benefits the culture of the business.

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