Psychological safety is important for a company’s success. What is psychological safety? It’s the ability of an employee or group of employees to speak up in the workplace about issues that concern them without fear of payback or stigma. This includes disagreeing with leaders, asking for clarification on areas employees don’t understand. It also means getting involved in implementing new policies.

Organizations and workplaces that provide psychological safety will listen to and embrace views that may differ from their own. Such organizations see others’ perspectives as valuable information that can contribute to the prosperity of the organization.

Psychological safety also centers on emotional safety. In an emotionally safe environment, employees are free to express their emotions productively. This includes being open about negative emotions, asking for help when feeling overwhelmed, and admitting mistakes (without fear of retribution).

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to create a psychologically safe workplace. Many companies don’t know where to start or feel they don’t have the tools or expertise to make it happen. Even when leaders know what is required from employees, they don’t know how to recognize and address the specific emotional stressors faced by each one. Plus, they don’t have the skills or training to resolve interpersonal problems.

Tips for Making a Workplace Psychologically Safer

Create a culture of inclusion and empathy. A psychologically safe environment means showing each employee that he or she is valued and wanted. Encourage the sharing of sensitivities, vulnerabilities, experiences, and emotions. Doing this is pivotal to your organization’s success!

Establish a culture and work environment where people are free to admit mistakes and discuss difficult situations, but maintain boundaries, and do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful behavior. Encourage and support a culture in which employees can discuss the impact of difficult situations without fear of scrutiny or punishment. Be clear that “making mistakes” is part of the learning process; everyone makes them, and it is how you deal with them that makes a difference.

Build trust and respect through communication. Good communication is vital for any organization, and it’s a two-way street. Ask for feedback to ensure you’re meeting their needs. Lead by example and listen to your employees. Do it with empathy and be open to change based on what is important to them.

How You Listen Matters

Use active listening techniques. Tap into the specific emotional needs of each person in your organization. This can help you understand what makes them most comfortable (or uncomfortable) and why. For example, use a “feedback sandwich” approach–give praise or criticism within positive feedback, making suggestions for improvement within praise, etc. Always seek the employee’s point of view and acknowledge their suggestions.

Recognize and reward employees’ contributions. If you can do this with no strings attached, people will appreciate it even more. Give praise to employees for their contributions and unique insights. Doing this can improve performance, boost morale, and foster job satisfaction. However, there are some caveats: you have to be genuine and specific when praising someone, as well as have the right tone.

Use 360 feedback. To be culturally “safe,” leaders need to model how they want their employees to respond in a tense situation. Give and receive feedback, as necessary, and reassure employees and members of the team that you are listening to the issue or situation. Bring up sensitive issues first with trusted associates who may already be aware of the sensitive information, and then act on it.

Most importantly, create a climate of support. During conversations, use more “I” statements than “you” statements, and offer praise and encouragement.

Still have questions? Get help from a professional if you are unsure how to create a psychologically safe environment for your employees or if you have trouble recognizing colleagues’ needs. Your workplace will be better for it!

What Are the Benefits of Psychological Safety?

A 2017 Gallup poll showed that employees of organizations that foster psychological safety are 12% more productive. That kind of productivity is something any business or organization can benefit from.

The Bottom Line

‘Psychological safety’ is an important concept in organizational psychology. It creates a more positive work environment that promotes open communication and understanding among employees. In turn, this increases productivity and creates a more satisfying work environment.


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