Why you should care about psychological safety in the workplace.

Why you should care about psychological safety in the workplace

Every organisation strives to ensure employees are working efficiently. However, if your team constantly feels the pressure to perform without mistakes or to never ask questions about the task at hand, they likely aren’t working at their best.

When employees don’t feel psychologically comfortable at work, your business is not operating at its best capacity. Let’s explore how you can ensure your team feels safe to express themselves at work:

Psychological safety 101

When you first hear the term psychological safety, you may think of a person’s wellbeing or mental health. However, it’s much broader than that. As the Harvard Business Review explains, psychological safety was first identified and studied by a university professor in 1999. She observed the dynamic of employees at work and how comfortable they felt talking with management and expressing their ideas.

The results of her study showed that when a team trusts its organisation, the workplace performs better overall, and from this the term psychological safety came to be. This is different from employee well-being or job satisfaction. Instead of evaluating if a team feels fulfilled in the position, psychological safety wants to know if they can:

      • Give and receive candid feedback
      • Admit mistakes without major repercussions
      • Ask questions and learn from one another

If an employee feels comfortable doing all of the above, then they likely feel psychologically safe. They are able to express an idea or admit to a mistake without being ridiculed or embarrassed. Now, they can learn from their shortcomings and the experience of others to become a better team member.

Make sure employees feel comfortable enough to ask questions.Make sure employees feel comfortable enough to ask questions.

3 ways to create a welcoming workplace

Of course, every company wants to create a psychologically safe working environment to ensure its team is working efficiently. Here are some easy ways to promote this in your organisation:

1. Encourage honest conversations

Beyond the everyday office talk and meetings, how often are you having candid conversations with employees at work? According to psychology blog Pyschreg, when management engages in “radical candour” — ie, being caring but also direct with speech — they can guide conversations to teach teams about proper behaviour.

Instead of letting mistakes or poor practices slide, purposeful conversations can ensure everyone is moving forward in the right direction.

2. Invite questions during meetings

Every work meeting should be productive, but when an employee has a question they are too hesitant to ask that means they didn’t fully grasp any topics discussed. It’s also likely that if one team member has an enquiry, other people are probably thinking the same thing. Sometimes, it’s not enough to expect employees to willingly ask questions. They may feel embarrassed or that their lack of understanding makes them look bad in front of their colleagues. Instead, have an open forum or dedicate part of the meeting to invite questions, ensuring that no query is too small to cover.

3. Share mistakes

Finally, to promote a psychologically safe workplace it’s important to share your experiences with mistakes with your team. Not only does this serve as a teaching moment, but it also shows your employees that mistakes may be made and such errors won’t sacrifice their career. Now, your team will also feel comfortable admitting to small mistakes and learning from them.

Psychological safety starts at the top. Your management team and HR department should be actively monitoring and improving the workplace to ensure employees feel comfortable to work to the best of their ability. At ICML, we can help your organisation promote a positive work environment from the top down. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how ICML can help your company improve its psychological safety.


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