What is Psychological Safety in the Workplace?

15th May 2023

The average work environment has seen a big shift over the past few years. With the introduction of permanent work-from-home models, hybrid models, and the return to the office, there are many things that employers need to consider if they want to improve the work experience for their employees.

One thing being factored in during recent years is psychological safety. A new light is being shone on the importance of work-life balance as a result of COVID-19, while work-related stress is being taken even more seriously.  With 1 in 4 workers considering quitting their jobs after the pandemic, employers can no longer ignore the issues their staff with struggling with. Psychological safety among them.

Psychological safety provides a range of benefits. While it improves overall quality of life in the workplace for employees, it also brings benefits to employers by helping inspire innovative ideas, increasing productivity and supporting honest communication to identify areas of change.

Yet many employers don’t understand what psychological safety is, let alone how to build a psychologically safe workplace for their team. In this post, we’ll deep dive into how you can make sure your team members feel safe in their workplace, as well as cover the benefits you’ll see for your business when you do. But first, we’ll start by exploring what the term psychological safety actually means

What is Psychological Safety?

To be psychologically safe, you have to feel comfortable sharing questions, raising concerns or explaining mistakes without fear of negative repercussions. This might include punishment, mocking, humiliation or having others think less of them.

For a workplace, this means employees will feel confident to express their ideas, opinions or concerns without fearing negative consequences. It means team members feel supported, respected and aren’t afraid of being criticised or punished for speaking up.

Psychological safety at work encompasses the following aspects:

  1. Trust: Employees trust their colleagues and their leaders. They trust that decisions affecting them are made with their best interests at heart.
  2. Inclusiveness: All team members feel valued and included in their workplace, regardless of their background, race, gender, or other differences.
  3. Empathy: Leaders and colleagues are empathetic and understand the perspectives and issues of others. This creates a supportive and non-judgmental environment.
  4. Open communication: There is transparent and honest communication among team members. Employees are also encouraged to speak up and share their thoughts and ideas. 
  5. Reduced fear of failure: Employees are not afraid of making mistakes, as they don’t fear excessive criticism or punishment. 

These values need to be set at the top of your company and shared at every level. The whole team, from team leaders and managers down, have to play their part in creating psychologically safe work environments.

What are the Benefits of Team Psychological Safety?

Building a psychologically safe work environment can increase employee retention, productivity, creativity and innovation which will add value to any company. In turn, they will bring even more benefits including:

Employee Retention

Research suggests that replacing an employee costs 6 – 9 months of their salary. This means retaining your staff is actually a money-saving measure – and creating psychological safety is a key part of this. If employees can come to you with concerns or wellbeing worries, then you can tackle their problems early. This will stop them feeling tempted (or even forced) to leave – in turn, lowering your staff churn rate.

Increased Happiness

Something else that helps improve staff retention is to increase the happiness of your employees – another aspect helped by fostering psychological safety. It will help your staff feel valued, fulfilled and respected as well as reduce stress levels.

Increased Profitability

A psychologically safe workplace can actually boost the profitability of your business in a number of ways. As mentioned above, you will be saving on recruiting costs but your staff will also be more productive during working hours. Finally, they are less likely to call in sick or need to take time off to combat work stress.

How to Create Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Proving the importance of psychological safety is easy, but many businesses will struggle to implement it. It is not a quick fix, and in many cases developing psychological safety can take a complete shift in mindset and way of working.

Here are some steps you can take to build psychological safety in your workplace:

Honest Communication

Encourage conversations between your team, and across other departments of the company. Make staff feel engaged with improving their workplace by starting debates and asking questions.

Accountability and Recognition

It’s important to engage your employees by providing regular feedback. When giving feedback, ensure that your employees do not feel criticised and acknowledge their individual strengths, whilst encouraging growth.

Self Awareness and Reflection

Do not be afraid to open up conversations about your own ways of working. Not everybody thinks the same, and everybody works differently. Let your employees challenge the way you work so you can understand each others’ processes better. And be open to changing the way things are done if necessary too.

Transparency and Vulnerability

Don’t be afraid to own up to your mistakes. Admit your own shortcomings and open discussions around your failings. Your staff will see you doing this and be encouraged to do the same.

How can you measure psychological safety at work?

When you set out to promote psychological safety among your staff, the only people who can judge the success is team members themselves so you need to speak to them. Don’t rely on team performance, productivity or employee turnover as these can all be influenced by too many other things.

Just ask your team – and ask them often. Create surveys or questionnaires designed to measure psychological safety. Review them and run them again regularly, as a psychologically safe environment is not easy to maintain. Talking to your team on a regular basis will help you spot issues as and when they arise

Make them anonymous to encourage honesty and maintain psychological safety throughout the process. Don’t conduct face-to-face interviews or rely on team leaders to feed information back – try to create the most direct line possible to your staff.

Helping you to promote psychological safety in your workplace

Building psychological safety should be a fundamental part of any business practice. It should shape the way your team works, their actions and behaviour every single day.

If you need support to create psychological safety in your business, speak to one of our team and find out how our health and wellbeing programme could help.

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