These days, more and more people are talking about psychological safety at work. A psychologically safe work environment is important for the work performance, job satisfaction and mental health of your employees. But what exactly is psychological safety? How can you identify psychological safety (or a lack of it) at work? And what can you, as a manager, do to create a psychologically safe work environment?
In this article, we’ll discuss what psychological safety is, why it’s important and what you, as a manager, can do to create a psychologically safe work environment.
What is psychological safety?
In 1999, Harvard professor Amy Edmondson coined the term “psychological safety”. Edmondson describes psychological safety as “trusting that it’s safe to take interpersonal risks” – in other words, that it’ll be appreciated when you come forward with ideas, questions, concerns and mistakes.
On the other hand, psychological safety also means the absence of interpersonal anxiety: employees feel free to speak out without fear of being judged.
In essence, creating psychological safety is about developing an environment where everybody feels like they can be themselves. But why is this so important?
The importance of psychological safety at work
A psychologically safe work environment is important for both employees and the organisation. When your employees feel seen and heard, they perform better, experience more job satisfaction and enjoyment, and have improved mental health.
As Google suggests, that’s also important for the organisation. Research by Google into the secrets of successful teams found that psychological safety plays an important role in success: within the most successful teams, people listen to each other, team members feel free to give their opinions, and they all, roughly, have an equal say. These are all signs of psychological safety.
Creating a psychologically safe work environment can also help with employee retention. When employees don’t feel safe at work, they experience more stress and are at greater risk of burnout. In addition, there’s more chance that employees will leave the organisation.
You might also be interested in: The 8 Best Retention Strategies for 2023
The advantages of psychological safety
- Fewer people calling in sick with stress and burnout
- Improved mental health
- High performance and productivity
- Job satisfaction and enjoyment
Creating a psychologically safe work environment is important for the work performance, job satisfaction and mental health of your employees. But how can you tell whether your organisation is psychologically safe or not?
How to identify workplace trust (or a lack of it)
The most important first step in creating psychological safety is knowing how to identify psychological safety (or a lack of it). Psychological safety is about the subtle interactions between people, explains Joriene Beks – expert and trainer in the area of psychological safety – during a podcast interview. Do people feel seen and heard? You play an important role in this as a manager.
A psychologically unsafe work culture is one where employees don’t feel like they can:
- share ideas, questions and concerns
- express criticism/give feedback
- take risks
- be themselves
When employees don’t feel engaged or they have a sense that they aren’t giving valuable contributions, these might also be signs that an environment is psychologically unsafe.
Particularly when a lot is changing or things aren’t going so well at a company, there’s an increased risk of the environment becoming psychologically unsafe. At moments like this, managers and supervisors often try to get the work side of things under control, but by doing this they – consciously or unconsciously – create an environment where there isn’t much trust. We’re seeing this often, now that more people are working hybrid or remotely.
A lack of trust is a key sign that an environment might be psychologically unsafe. The same is true for a lack of confidentiality, caused for example by personal matters from conversations being discussed with other people. This doesn’t just apply to private conversations, but also to anything that employees share with you as a manager.
Having read these signs, do you think your organisation might have a psychologically unsafe working environment? Don’t worry. The most important thing is that you’re now aware of it. Below we’ll share a few tips that will help you to develop psychological safety.