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The importance of cultivating psychological safety in the workplace

Written by Hannah Le Tissier

“Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”
– Amy Edmonson (Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, and writer of The Fearless Organisation)

Safety is a basic human need. It therefore comes as no surprise that we must feel safe in our work environments to be able to thrive. In fact, 89% of employees believe that feeling psychologically safe at work is essential.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or shamed for speaking up and taking risks – whether that be with ideas, questions, or challenges. For example, a team member may take a risk by offering a solution to an inefficient process to her team lead or a colleague may ask for clarity on the project aims in a meeting without feeling worried about feeling judged.

Why is psychological safety at work so important?

“We learned that there are five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google. . . . Psychological safety was far and away the most important.” – Julia Rozovsky, people analytics manager at Google.

As humans, we want to feel a part of a tribe, and therefore we will often do everything we can to avoid damaging our reputation. As a result, we often hide our thoughts and feelings in the workplace to fit in and be accepted.

However, the more psychologically safe we feel, the more likely we are to take a risk and share our thoughts with those around us, because we are not so worried about being kicked out of the tribe.

In turn, psychological safety has important benefits for the employee, team, and business. The employee is likely to feel more fulfilled and well in their work, because they are able to engage without fear of judgment. In terms of wellbeing, if we do not feel psychologically safe at work, then we are unlikely to seek support for our mental health. We are also more likely to experience poor mental health as a result.

The team benefits from feeling psychologically safe because people will feel comfortable contributing in their own unique way. As a result, there will be a mix of different ideas and experiences available, leading to creativity, innovation, and better performance.

Finally, the workplace benefits from a more inclusive culture, improved performance, and reduced turnover.

How can we promote psychological safety and trust within our teams?

For some managers, cultivating psychological safety will come naturally to them. For others, it may take a more concerted effort. Here are a few tips from the team at Well at Work as to how promote trust within your team:

“It sounds simple but talking about things other than work helps me to feel closer to my colleagues and builds trust between us. I’d suggest asking a brief check-in questions at the start of meetings, even if it’s just ‘how are you?’ and then take time to listen to their answer.”

“I really appreciate my manager sharing their own stories. It allows me to feel that I can open up and talk too.”

“In the past I have felt pressure to conform to certain working styles. However, I feel now we have an opportunity to allow people the flexibility they deserve and accept different styles of working. Asking someone how and when they best like to work can be beneficial in supporting them to create an environment in which they feel safe.”

Creating an environment in which your team feel psychologically safe, through active listening, leading by example, and encouraging creativity and problem-solving, is a really important way in which a manager can help support their team to feel mentally well. 

If you would like more ideas on how to create a more mentally healthy workplace, come along to our free webinar: 5 ways to empower your teams and boost wellbeing.

Posted on: 20th June 2022