Over the years, workplaces have undergone significant transformations, moving beyond the conventional notion of safety solely encompassing physical well-being. Today, the concept of occupational health and safety encompasses a broader perspective that includes an emphasis on psychological safety and well-being.
Recognizing the pivotal role that emotional welfare plays in the prosperity of an organization, we come to understand that psychological safety holds equal importance alongside its physical counterpart. The physical equipment and safety are no longer relevant. Instead, fostering an environment of psychological safety has emerged as a collective responsibility, one that depends on the unwavering commitment of leadership to value and enable its cultivation.
What is Psychological Safety?
Psychological safety is all about creating an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up, taking risks, and making mistakes without fearing negative consequences. It was first coined by Amy Edmondson, a brilliant professor at Harvard Business School, who described it as a belief shared among team members that encourages taking interpersonal risks.
When studying medical teams and their rate of mistakes, Edmondson made a surprising discovery. It wasn’t the teams that made fewer mistakes that performed better; it was the teams that had a culture of openly admitting and addressing mistakes. Even the other teams made mistakes, but they chose to hide them.
Inspired by the military’s selfless leadership, Simon Sinek wrote about psychological safety in his book “Leaders Eat Last.” He emphasized the importance of creating a safe space in the workplace where employees can focus on their work without worrying about their own survival.
In essence, psychological safety fosters innovation, collaboration, and personal growth. It allows individuals to freely express their thoughts, take calculated risks, and learn from their mistakes. By nurturing this environment, leaders unleash the collective brilliance and untapped potential within their teams, propelling them to extraordinary achievements. It’s about embracing fearless expression and supporting each other’s growth along the way.
Is Your Team Feeling Safe?
Wondering if your team feels psychologically safe? While there are audits and evaluations you can explore, the key lies in your awareness and willingness to make necessary changes. Let’s start by understanding what an unsafe environment looks like.
Harassment, which is not only harmful but also often against company policies or even the law, is an obvious red flag. Additionally, microaggressions, gaslighting, poor communication, lack of boundaries, and biases contribute to an unsafe space. In such an environment, team members may feel hesitant to confidently perform their tasks without facing negative responses or consequences. These negative responses may not always be formal reprimands or demotions; they can manifest through subtle actions, behaviors, and words. That’s why being self-aware and open to change is crucial – you might unknowingly create an unsafe atmosphere.
One way to gauge psychological safety is by using the Fearless Organization Scan, a self-assessment tool developed with the expertise of Amy Edmondson, the very person who coined the term “psychological safety.” This assessment considers four dimensions:
- Permissibility of Mistakes: To what extent are mistakes tolerated?
- Open Discussion of Difficult Topics: How comfortable are people discussing sensitive issues?
- Willingness to Help: How likely are team members to support and assist each other?
- Authenticity and Belonging: How accepted and encouraged are individuals to be their true selves?
You may find some aspects on this list that seem unimportant or unrelated to productive work. If that’s the case, it’s likely that you’re not fostering a psychologically safe workplace.
According to Edmondson, people should feel empowered to ask questions, raise concerns, and share ideas without fear of repercussions. Speaking up should be seen as a positive action, one that is welcomed and valued by colleagues.
By being attentive to the safety of your team and fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable contributing, you can create a workplace that nurtures growth, collaboration, and success.
Creating a psychologically safe workplace is crucial for fostering a culture of trust, growth, and innovation. To ensure psychological safety at each stage, here are five effective practices for managers to implement:
- Embrace Vulnerability: Leaders who acknowledge their own mistakes and limitations create a safe space for others. By sharing personal stories of failure and learning, managers inspire openness and trust.
- Foster Transparency: Open and honest communication, including sharing both what is known and what is unknown, builds trust. Consistency between words and actions is essential.
- Prioritize Fairness: Evaluate all aspects of the employee experience to ensure fairness, such as promotion pathways, pay equity, and recognition. Pay attention to the concerns of remote or hybrid team members who may feel excluded due to limited face-to-face interactions.
- Cultivate Curiosity: Encourage leaders to question assumptions and promote a culture of continuous learning and problem-solving. SAP America exemplifies this by emphasizing long-term impact over short-term goals.
- Set Reasonable Expectations: Unrealistic demands can erode psychological safety. Be mindful of employees’ schedules, work/life balance, and time zone differences. Trust your team to deliver results and respect their personal lives.
In conclusion, fostering psychological safety in the workplace is vital for creating a thriving, collaborative, and innovative environment. It goes beyond physical safety and requires leadership commitment to enable its growth. But don’t forget, creating a psychologically safe workplace is an ongoing process. By implementing these practices, you empower your team, unlock their potential, and achieve extraordinary outcomes.