Psychological Safety in the workplace

Is your workplace psychologically safe?

Unpacking Psychological Safety By Sarah Mayo

Two questions to start…

Have you heard of the term psychological safety? 

And if you have, is it a term that is discussed and modelled at a senior level in your organisation? 

If you haven’t come across the term psychological safety before, a good place to start is to give it a definition.

Amy C. Edmonson, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of a book about leadership (The Fearless Organisation, 2018) says that…

“Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

Psychological safety isn’t about being nice or soft and fluffy as you might initially think… It’s about creating a workplace environment where it is “safe” and encouraged to give candid and constructive feedback, where people are able to be open and vulnerable about making mistakes or not knowing the answers, and one where people learn from each other. 

This “culture” leads to the highest performing teams and organisations… where people, the team and the organisation get stronger as a result of sharing “weaknesses”. This leads to innovation, high engagement and everyone feeling like they’re reaching their full potential. By contrast, the cost of hiding weaknesses and mistakes, is a weaker team/organisation. Can your organisation afford this cost?

Some more questions to consider in relation to your workplace and whether or not it is psychologically safe:

Think about the last meeting you attended. Was everyone invited to contribute? Did it feel okay to disagree? Did it feel okay to ask questions?

Now think about a time when you’ve made a mistake or didn’t know all the answers. Did it feel okay to openly admit to this? What was the reaction from your peers or manager?

Depending on how you responded to these questions, you may be interested to learn more about the subject of psychological safety. I was lucky enough to talk in depth about the subject with HR consultant and executive coach, Gemma Bullivant, in our Walk The Talk webcast (listen/watch here). 

We discussed how it is more difficult than ever to create a culture of psychological safety due to the remote nature of how we are working these days. This remote environment requires more trust than ever before… but the uncertain world we’re operating in means we are more susceptible to become more controlling in our roles as managers (controlling what we can). This can lead to a breakdown in trust and engagement, which can have a direct impact on motivation, morale and performance. Bottom line, psychological safety underpins employee wellbeing and performance.

Gemma brilliantly navigates the topic and explains the five tenets of psychological safety (Vulnerability, Failing Forward, Questions, Permission and Trust) and how to bring these to life within an organisation.

Spoiler alert… it starts with leading by example. Leaders and managers need to model the behaviour and tenets of psychological safety for it to exist within the culture (and subcultures) of an organisation.

If you feel this is an area that you need support on as a business, we have a practical manager training session that covers psychological safety, encouraging discussion and idea-sharing around why it’s important for employee wellbeing and performance, and how to create a culture of psychological safety within an organisation. Find out more here.

Other training you might be interested in is our mental health awareness training.