Psychological Safety in the Workplace

ALAN WHITE

Wellness Consultant
EazySAFE

Psychological safety within organisations is when people feel comfortable being themselves and that they won’t be criticised for speaking their mind or sharing ideas. Our physical safety in the workplace is a vital element of an excellent working environment, but for people to truly reach their potential they also need to feel psychologically safe.  

When we feel psychologically safe in any environment we are able to be creative, take moderate risks in our sharing of ideas and become motivated to work towards a common goal in more innovative ways. In order for companies to create psychologically safe workplaces, there are a number of key cultural pillars that need to be implemented and normalised within the organisation. These are trust, safety, being heard, feeling valued and being challenged to develop professionally.  

 

Trust. 

To feel psychologically safe employees must feel trusted by management. Although employees need to be evaluated on their performance to some degree, certain freedoms to make decisions within roles allows employees a feeling of agency and self-efficacy which develops an important sense of being trusted. Someone who feels that they have control over their professional lives will invariably become motivated to give the best they can both individually and as part of a team.  

Safety. 

To feel psychologically safe we need to feel physically safe. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs shows us how important this is with it second only to physical needs. Thankfully most of us feel physically safe in our workplaces these days. However beyond our physical safety, to be at our best professionally we also need to feel safe to be who we are, share our ideas without fear of criticism or punishment and have the freedom to be creative in our daily work.  

Leaders who can instil this sense of safety in the workplace will develop a culture of openness, motivation and teamwork. To achieve this it’s again important to develop reciprocal trust between employees and managers.  

Being Heard. 

Being heard and being listened to are two very different things and employees know implicitly which one they are experiencing. Being listened to is when we are given the space to voice our opinion but invariable no action results from what we have suggested. Being Heard is when our ideas are listened to, discussed and form part of the decision making process.  

Not every opinion or idea suggested by an employee can always be taken into account, however, if employees can see that what they have to say is often considered, they will develop more complex and strategic ideas that will benefit the organisation in the future. This will also give employees a sense of achievement. 

Feeling Valued. 

Feeling valued in the workplace contributes a huge amount to our feeling of wellbeing and psychological safety. Our sense that we are valued is both explicit and implicit. Explicitly we feel valued when our work and effort is acknowledged and recognised. It is also when we are given the space to figure things out and ask for help when needed.  

Implicitly we feel valued when we know that we can suggest new ways of doing things and are given opportunities within the organisation. This is often the indefinable trust that exists within creative organisations that promotes loyalty and productivity.  

Challenged to Grow.  

We are at our best both personally and professionally when we are challenged to grow and develop ourselves. Developing a growth mindset makes us more able to handle the challenges of life as well as being more adaptable to change. In order to grow and achieve, however, there needs to be a certain amount of error tolerance within the organisation as well as personally.  

Many of us choose not to take on new challenges because when we experience a setback we become overly critical of ourselves. Organisations that are critical of errors will stifle any potential for professional growth in employees. Although targets need to be achieved and projects completed on time, allowing some space for employees to grow will empower them to take on bigger and more complex challenges within the organisation. 

When we reflect on what we can achieve either personally or professionally we usually regret the things we didn’t do rather than the things we did do, even if they didn’t work out exactly as we planned. Psychological safety allows us to push beyond our comfort zone and develop our potential fully. 

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