An increasingly unpredictable business environment means that organizations need more creativity, innovation, and agility than ever before. Such creativity and innovation comes from your company’s greatest asset—your people. But that only happens if your employees are free to experiment, take risks, and ask questions. And to encourage them to do so, you need to build a psychologically safe workplace. Psychological safety at work is the shared belief among employees that they are safe to share ideas and concerns, ask questions, and admit their mistakes without fear of being punished or humiliated by their coworkers or line managers. Without a high level of psychological safety, employees feel they don’t belong and become intimidated. In turn, they become discouraged from speaking up, contributing, or owning up to their mistakes. This is stifling and detrimental to the organization.
Building and maintaining psychological safety in the workplace is no easy task but crucial to creating a positive work environment.
Psychological safety in the workplace offers many benefits.
It increases employee confidence.
Employees can speak up in psychologically safe work environments without fear of judgment or reproach. This gives them the confidence to share their opinions, ideas, thoughts, and concerns. They then communicate more openly and frequently, leading to stronger relationships with colleagues, managers, and customers.
It improves diversity and inclusion.
When you promote psychological safety at work, you send a clear message that everyone’s contribution is valued, regardless of age, sex, color, race, religion, or disability. This promotes diversity and instills a sense of belonging. These concepts lead to deeper connections between colleagues and the organization.
It decreases employee turnover.
When you make your employees feel safe, respected, and valued, they become far less likely to leave your organization. They trust their colleagues and leaders, feel a sense of belonging, and know you consider and value their contributions. And, of course, we all know decreased turnover assists with continuity of knowledge and experience within the organization. Plus, the alternative is costly.
It enhances your company brand.
When you treat your employees well, they will share their positive experiences with their friends and family. They may write about or discuss it on social media or platforms like Glassdoor. In fact, your employees’ direct endorsement of your company culture is the best advertisement for talented job seekers!
Employees increase performance and productivity.
When employees feel psychologically safe in the workplace and are able to express themselves and new ideas freely, they become more invested in the organization. Consequently, you’ll find increased productivity and performance.
How to create a psychologically safe workplace
Building a truly psychologically safe workplace needs time and hard work. More importantly, it requires a cultural shift in your organization. And this always starts with leadership. Here are six crucial steps to creating a positive work culture where all employees have the confidence to grow.
1) Articulate the importance of psychological safety
Creating a safe work culture begins with openly talking about psychological safety and how employees can contribute to this type of environment. Begin with your expectations including behaviors you will and will not tolerate. Then, highlight the benefits of psychological safety and how it will contribute to their personal and the organization’s success.
2) Show your vulnerability and fallibility
Talking about psychological safety alone is not enough. You also need to practice the behaviors you want to see in all of your team members. So, be honest about your imperfections and the uncertainty you feel when making decisions. And, talk openly about and apologize for your mistakes and explain lessons learned from them. By leading by example, you encourage the rest of the organization to adopt these behaviors.
3) Instill an open-door policy
All leaders need to encourage employees to raise concerns, ask questions, provide feedback, or share new ideas that may challenge the status quo. Tell them to come directly to you. And, when they do, actively listen. Be curious about what they say. Ask probing questions. And take immediate action when warranted. This way, you show that you genuinely care about understanding their point of view and that their opinion matters. You’d be surprised about how much you can learn from your team.
4) Respond positively to failure
How you react to problems or mistakes directly impacts your organization’s psychological safety. When an employee owns a mistake they’ve made, thank them and respect them for admitting to the error. Then discuss solutions and lessons learned. Demonstrate that every failure is an opportunity to learn, improve, and grow.
5) Make it easier for everyone to speak up
A critical element of psychological safety is communication. You will find that people are more comfortable communicating in different ways. For example, some are comfortable talking in larger groups, while others prefer one-on-one conversations. Provide your employees with various ways they can communicate and ask questions.
6) Establish norms for positive behavior
Establishing norms is very important. It helps you ensure that the whole organization embraces a supportive culture. To achieve this, encourage team members to:
- Get to know one another through social and team-building events. You can even do these in a virtual environment. Either way, it’s a great way to break the ice and see each other as real human beings.
- Respect one another and avoid engaging in undermining or negative behavior
- Share ideas and ask questions
- Provide each other with constructive feedback
- Handle contrasting perspectives in a respectful way
Thanks to the increasingly volatile business climate, psychological safety has become a fundamental part of business success. Creating a safe work environment makes your employees feel that they belong. You also demonstrate that you seek and appreciate their contributions. This encourages them to openly talk about their concerns, ask questions, and offer creative solutions to problems. Not only does this raise their performance level, but also the overall performance of your company.