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Employee Psychological Safety: Why It Should Be Your Company’s Priority

by | Aug 8, 2022 | EST | 0 comments

Many studies have often discovered that companies benefit from a diversity of thought. Similarly, groups of individuals with various life experiences are better equipped to spot issues and propose innovative solutions than groups of individuals who have similar life experiences.

But what if some members of the team avoid suggesting creative ideas for fear of being rejected? What if they feel uncomfortable speaking up? What if they’re hesitant to express their concerns or resist asking challenging questions?

Sadly, this is how many individuals feel regarding their workplace. As per a Gallup poll conducted in 2017, three out of ten employees strongly agreed that their opinions are ignored at their work. This is a concerning statistic as it is obvious that employees who feel free to express themselves are more engaged.

Remote work environments, which are becoming more prevalent due to the global COVID pandemic, have exacerbated the problem, especially for women.

For organizations, offering emotional support to employees is no longer a hallmark of a good employer; it has become an absolute necessity. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns have wreaked havoc on people’s mental health, with devastating impacts for companies.

Unhappy employees result in low productivity and high attrition, which can be difficult for organizations to surmount when coupled with macroeconomic challenges.

Psychological safety is essential for your workforce to be happy, engaged, and perform at their best. And if long-term remote work becomes more common, this will only become more true.

What Is Psychological Safety

A Harvard Business School professor, Amy Edmondson, coined the word psychological safety. According to her, psychological safety is “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Creating a psychologically comfortable environment helps people speak up and express their opinions.

According to Jeff Polzer, an Edmondson and Harvard Business School professor, creating norms is crucial to success and engagement when it comes to establishing psychologically safe settings.

What Are The Four Stages Of Psychological Safety?

When there is interpersonal trust and a climate of respect in an organizational setting or team, members feel comfortable engaging and taking risks, enabling them to implement rapid innovation.

A sense of belonging is the foundation of a psychologically safe workplace. Employees ought to feel accepted and valued before they can improve their companies —  similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which argues that all humans want their basic needs to be addressed before they can reach their maximum potential.

The author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation, Dr Timothy Clark, states that employees must go through the following four stages before they feel comfortable contributing and pushing for change.

  • Stage 1: Inclusion Safety

Inclusion safety fulfills the fundamental human desire to connect and belong. In this stage, employees feel safe to be themselves, and they’re welcomed for who they are, including their distinct features and distinguishing characteristics.

  • Stage 2: Learner Safety

The need to learn and develop is satisfied by learner safety. In this stage, employees feel comfortable asking questions, exchanging in the learning process, experimenting, offering and receiving feedback, and making mistakes.

  • Stage 3 – Contributor Safety

Contributor safety addresses the desire to make a difference. In this stage, employees feel safe and free to utilize their skills and ability to contribute meaningfully.

  • Stage 4 – Challenger Safety

Challenger safety serves the need to improve things. When employees believe there is a chance to change or better anything, they feel safe and comfortable speaking up and challenging the status quo.

How To Create And Foster Psychological Safety in Your Organization

To build a high-performing team, it’s critical to prioritize excellent psychological safety.

Team cultures are a reflection of their leaders’ actions and emotions. As a leader, if you fail to create and promote psychologically safe team cultures, you risk causing irreversible adverse effects and damage to your organization.

Coaching centered on behavior change is the first step in creating a psychologically safe workplace. This begins with each team member and extends throughout the company.

Changing cultural norms necessitates continuous learning by all employees. A coach to facilitate these procedures on an individual level ensures that they correctly teach behavior changes.

To foster a psychologically safe workplace, leaders must constantly practice inclusive behaviors in order to create new team norms with time.

Here are methods to make your workplace more psychologically safe.

  • Be open with your employees

Transparency is the first step toward establishing a psychologically safe work environment. This entails communicating frequently and consistently, explaining the “why” behind actions or decisions and honestly seeking feedback from your employees.

  • Be Curious and Listen Actively

The importance of active listening is equal to that of curiosity. People who are actively listening are more likely to feel valued and capable of contributing to the team. And this is particularly necessary to practice when their opinions may challenge your thinking.

If you disagree with someone on your team, don’t assume they’re wrong. You can also learn from your team even as they learn from you.

  • Set a good example.

Anyone in a leadership position should set a good example for the rest of the organization. This applies to all levels of management, including team leads, managers and even senior management.

  • Encourage and reward diligent dissent

Create a climate where all employees can speak up and speak out about difficulties or concerns without fear of consequences. Understand that it is difficult for your employees to share their ideas — particularly if they have previously had their input rejected or undervalued. Recognize and reward valuable contributions, and express gratitude to your employees!

If you fail to lead by example, you can’t expect your team to perform well or feel comfortable and safe. This entails admitting and apologizing when you make a mistake, communicating considerately, displaying empathy, and seeking assistance when necessary.

  • Encourage respect

Do not tolerate a team member who practices shaming, undermining, or any other behavior that inhibits others from speaking up. However, don’t dismiss this conduct.

Act swiftly and highlight how statements like these can prevent others from sharing their concerns, opinions, and questions, stifling creativity and innovation.

  • Encourage an open dialogue (with growth in view)

Keep an eye on how teams operate. Doing that will help you know if everyone is given an opportunity to speak up or if there are some who are more than others. Then work to ensure that everyone has an equal amount of time to talk.

Consider organizing company excursions or virtual hangouts so that employees can be themselves and let their guard down. This is also an excellent opportunity to get to know each other better.

  • Learn to embrace vulnerability.

Leaders who own their fallibility and vulnerability, according to Edmondson, demonstrate true strength. It indicates a desire to improve as well as a strategy for fostering open and honest feedback. When leaders admit their own shortcomings, it helps the team and the company learn and improve.

It also creates a safe platform for others to acknowledge their own mistakes, demonstrating that the organization values ownership of mistakes

  • Make yourself available at all times

Ensure that every employee knows you’re available when they need you. Make it clear that you have an open-door policy and that they are welcome to come to you with any issues, whether or not they are work-related.

  • Offer employees different platforms to share their thoughts.

Ensure that employees can interact and share using the channels with which they are most familiar. This could imply having multiple modes of communication in place, such as email, chats, video conferencing, etc.

  • Target diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs or initiatives

A psychologically safe work environment is one that is inclusive, with a sense of belonging, and where every employee feels truly needed, valued, and wanted for who they are and what they bring to the table.

As a leader, it is best to prioritize the emotional well-being of your employees and establish a psychologically safe climate. This helps drive innovation, creativity, productivity, employee engagement, organizational efficiency, etc.

Importance Of Psychological Safety

As you may expect, ensuring psychological safety for your employees has several advantages for supervisors, direct reports, departments, and businesses. Employee psychological safety at work has been proven to:

  • Boost the ability to think creatively and innovatively.

People are much more inclined to share creative ideas, try new things, and test new theories without fear of consequences or criticism when they feel safe at work. This fosters a culture that emphasizes creativity and innovation over conformity. And it’s when teams feel free and comfortable to innovate that huge breakthroughs occur, which can positively affect market positions and profits.

  • It leads to increased employee retention

Organizations with a high level of psychological safety settings have fewer turnover problems and retain top performers for a longer time. This is because employees feel free to bring their complete selves to work and are empowered to make a difference in their jobs. If staff don’t feel that, they will most likely look for work somewhere else if given a chance.

  • Drive Better Performance

Organizations that intentionally strive to promote psychological safety benefit from a more engaged staff, which has been found to boost productivity by up to 12%. It is owing to the fact that a psychologically safe workforce actively learns from their mistakes, is more agile, and accepts responsibility for their outcomes.

  • Promote empathy and inclusivity.

Psychological safety, as the third element of diversity and inclusion, is another step toward enabling everyone at your company to thrive and innovate equitably. If your organization values diversity, equity, and inclusion, psychological safety is a must-have.

  • Create happier employees

Finally, promoting psychological safety in the workplace is one of the most important things you can do for employees. Teams that feel safe are happy and productive. And when your staff are productive, they will go above and beyond for your customers and, as a result, for your organization. That begins with allowing them to be themselves while also being innovative and driving change.

Final Thoughts

Psychological safety in the workplace is a continuous consideration. It can take a long time to create, and it can be readily destroyed in a bad situation. As a result, it’s vital that your organization’s leadership takes a proactive role in establishing and maintaining a psychologically safe culture.

If you are looking to create psychological safety in your organization to improve work experience and performance, Partner For Impact can help!

Our training is customized to meet the needs of each organization. It is designed to provide your employees with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to promote psychological safety both individually and collectively.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you with your development efforts.

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