In recent years the concept of psychological safety has gained significant attention, especially regarding the workplace. It is widely recognized that creating a safe and comfortable work environment where employees can express themselves and their ideas is essential for developing a healthy work culture. This, in turn, is necessary for a company's success. However, developing psychological safety in any organization is much easier said than done. Striving to develop a safe working environment can have incredible benefits to the individual employees as well as the company itself, making it one of the leading concepts to consider for a healthy workplace environment.
What is Psychological Safety?
Put simply, psychological safety is the idea of a climate where people are comfortable expressing themselves. Creating an environment where individuals feel that they can share their thoughts and opinions is incredibly important to the growth and development of that workforce. Unfortunately, many leaders within an organization believe that they already have an environment where their employees can speak up, but that is not always the case. Often, employees tend to shy away from sharing their thoughts and ideas if they are afraid of being wrong or ridiculed. Even simple comments such as a joke in response to a shared idea can damage the psychological climate and work to deter further sharing from the group. It is a simple idea, but one that is difficult to master in the workplace without having the proper tools to navigate successful implementation.
Psychological safety is critical to building and retaining a strong workforce. How secure an employee feels within their working environment has a direct impact on their engagement, productivity, creativity, and personal well-being. In fact, the sense of belonging and psychological safety that a company provides is often a more significant motivating factor than any other incentive, including salary. Hays, a company that conducted studies on workplace trends in 2017, found that 71% of workers would take a pay cut for a better cultural fit (you can read more about it here). This number has only increased during the last few years due to changes brought on by the pandemic-related elements. While money may attract employees to a job, a sense of belonging is what keeps them there.
Here are a few of the many benefits of fostering a psychologically safe work environment:
Promotion of creativity and innovation
When employees feel safe to share their ideas and opinions without fear of judgment, they are more likely to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to problems. Research into this field has shown that teams with high levels of psychological safety tend to be more creative and perform better than those with low levels. When employees feel safe to speak up, they can offer new perspectives and ideas that may not have been considered otherwise.
Furthermore, the only individuals fully capable of understanding the nuanced challenges and struggles of a job position is the one currently performing that job. They are also the ones best equipped to identify possible solutions to those struggles because they know the daily necessities of their tasks.
Encourages learning and development
In a psychologically safe environment, employees are more likely to ask for help and receive feedback without feeling ashamed or defensive. The benefits of this are twofold: mistakes are caught much more quickly, and the employee is more likely to learn from their mistakes and develop new skills.
Employees are more likely to communicate effectively with one another. They are more engaging with open and honest conversations that lead to mutual understanding and trust. Effective communication is essential for team cohesion and collaboration, which are crucial for organizational success.
Enhances Employee Retention
When employees feel psychologically safe at work, they are more likely to stay with their organization for the long term. This is because they feel valued, respected, and supported by their colleagues and managers. Not only does this improve the working conditions experienced by the employee, but it also will save the company money by not having to spend vast amounts on hiring and training new employees regularly to fill the positions left by employees leaving the organization.
Psychological Safety Enhances Employee Well-being
Workplace stress can have a significant impact on employee well-being, leading to absenteeism, burnout, and reduced job satisfaction. When employees feel this safety at work, they are more likely to experience positive emotions such as happiness, engagement, and fulfillment. They are also less likely to experience workplace stress and are more likely to take care of their physical and mental health.
Building a psychologically safe work environment is crucial for the success of any business, and will continue to be at the forefront of conversations for years to come.
If you are interested in more information on the concept of psychological safety check out this article by Edmonson and Lei (2014):
Edmondson, A. C., & Lei, Z. (2014). Psychological Safety: The History, Renaissance, and Future of an Interpersonal Construct. Annu. Rev. Organ. Psychol. Organ. Behav, 1, 23-43. Retrieved from https://www.ixistenz.ch/objectcomponent774.pdf