What do we mean by the term psychological safety?

psychological safety

When we talk about psychological safety, we’re talking about an organisational culture where people are comfortable being vulnerable. It’s a climate where team members feel free to express their opinions and be open about problems, concerns, and ideas.

Psychological safety is not only important for employees—it’s crucial for leaders as well. A leader who can create this kind of environment will have better relationships with her team members, will have more motivated employees, and higher performance overall in her department or division.

However, this type of organisational environment cannot be switched on overnight. It takes time to embed, with the behavioural change required at all levels.

If we consider a typical sales environment,

A sales manager is usually targeted on achieving their figures – which are usually aligned to the success of the business. This determines their behaviour and the performance culture generated can be detrimental. The high-performing sales leader will have one eye on their performance, but also the other eye on the well-being of their team. They know that a healthy culture is more productive than an unhealthy one and they understand that by creating a positive environment where people feel valued, safe, and respected, they are more likely to get better results.

What does psychological safety look like in a workplace?

Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. It’s a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up. In other words, it’s about feeling like you can be yourself at work without worrying about what other people think of you.

Psychological safety creates an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes without being afraid of being judged or criticised by others on their team, or even reprimanded by their superiors.

How can leaders create a psychologically safe environment?

In creating psychological safety in the workplace, you should consider:

  • Create a culture of trust. This can be done by showing that you have confidence in your team members and their abilities. You must also ensure that everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas and feedback without fear of being judged or criticised.
  • Create a problem-solving environment where people feel free to talk about issues that are affecting them or their work quality without fear of repercussions from management or other co-workers (i.e., “blaming” another person).
  • Be open to new ideas, even if they’re different than yours — and make sure others know it! Encourage creativity by giving people the freedom to make mistakes as they learn how best to do things differently than before; this will also allow them more room for creativity later down the road when trying something different.
  • Role model it! Demonstrate openness, curiosity, support and challenge

Patrick Lencioni shared his thoughts about what functions need to be present to ensure high-performing teams. Amongst them was the ability to resolve conflict and build a trusted environment.

If you have an issue in a team, the most effective way to resolve this issue is to be able to name it and discuss solutions without the fear of upset from others. Sure – this can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but it is also liberating and quickly allows for a better overall outcome. Once the norm is established, it is amazing how powerful it becomes.

Benefits of creating psychological safety.

Right now, there is a skills shortage in some work areas (legal, technology, software design etc.). Talent retention is a key area of any Human Resources partner. This is about retaining the talent that is needed, but also repurposing employees that show initiative and capability.

We are noticing that the development of psychological safety is a key factor in employee retention. It leads to increased engagement, innovation and productivity.

We also understand from recent research that an employee aligned to company purpose, authenticity and intent is key to retention.

As well as employee retention, we recognise that we are operating in a VUCA world (standing for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). This means that the command styles of leadership are challenged, as more agility is required to deliver greater outcomes and performance. Open dialogue encourages this based on high psychological safety, and if you speak to almost anyone under the age of 30, they are not going to accept the old-school traditional top-down approaches that have existed in the past

In summary, psychological safety is a concept that you can apply to your organisation and its employees.

By creating a psychologically safe environment and encouraging employees to be open with each other about their feelings and concerns, you can create an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks, supporting and challenging each other and trying new things. This will lead to improved engagement, performance and retention rates within your organisation!

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