When employers and workers think of safety, they think of physical risks and the benefits of mitigating them: Decreased injuries, fewer days off, no production lapses. But leading organizations have found that it is just as important to provide psychological safety.
Psychological safety is the belief – or, better, the knowledge – that you will not be retaliated against or humiliated for speaking up with concerns or questions or for pointing out mistakes.
“Companies and organizations want their employees to come to them with ideas,” said Pauline E. Anton, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC). “They need to nurture an open and communicative safe environment where the flow of information goes both ways. And it is just good business savvy, too.
“After all, the boots on the ground are usually the ones who know what’s up.”
When employees feel psychologically safe at work, they feel more part of a team. There is camaraderie because you know that other team members will not embarrass, reject, or punish you for speaking your mind. When they are free to be themselves at work, without the fear of reprisals or retaliation, they are more productive and creative.
In a recent study, Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmonson found that teams that made more mistakes were more successful than those that made fewer mistakes. That is because a safe environment in which people feel comfortable to express themselves and take intellectual risks is vital to fostering creativity and innovation in the workplace. And you do not make mistakes if you take no chances.
“Nothing good has ever come out of a meeting where nobody voiced their opinion and everybody just nods along to everything,” said Samuel Guzman, TAMACC chairman of the board. “A successful team plays devil’s advocate to solve issues, encourages each other, and bounces ideas around.”
Now, during National Safety Month, it is a good time to assess the psychological safety in your workplace and take measures to improve it. There are three easy things Edmonson talks about in her Ted Talks that should be considered first steps:
Lead and they will follow. Senior managers and team leaders should set the example by acknowledging their mistakes, being approachable, encouraging questions, and even proactively seeking feedback. If the bosses show that they value workers’ opinions, they will get more of them.
Practice active listening. This sounds easy, but it is not. It means turning your phone off at meetings. Repeating what people say to you to make sure you get it right. Asking questions so that you encourage employees and coworkers to share more information.
Create a safe environment. For people to feel comfortable voicing their opinions, businesses and organizations must develop a few ground rules, like no interrupting, no judging, no blaming, and yes to “out of the box” thinking.
“We spend as much time in our workplace as we do at home or on other activities. Workers need to feel comfortable there, like the stakeholders that they are,” said Guzman.
One way to promote psychological safety at work and strengthen the relationship between team members is to share feedback, see each other’s perspectives, encourage employees to build on each other’s ideas.
When people think of a healthy corporate culture, they often look at three key factors as barometers of their success: defined roles and clear vision about their missions, company values that align with individual values or community values, and the possibility of professional growth.
Psychological safety is quickly becoming the fourth.
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