Psychological safety in the workplace is the belief that you can share your ideas and opinions at work without fear of being ridiculed, reprimanded, or discriminated against. It includes the confidence to fail and make mistakes without suffering dire consequences.
Psychological safety fosters innovation, teamwork, and employee work satisfaction. It encourages authenticity in the work environment, which is the key to becoming a truly inclusive and diversified organization. A 2-year Google Study found that psychological safety was the number one component present in high-performing teams.
But if a psychologically safe workplace creates positive effects, why do most organizations struggle with it?
Minority groups like the LGBTQ community and people of color often report that they have to conceal their true selves or conform to the expectations of the workplace. In a survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, 75% of LGBTQ employees experienced at least one negative interaction at work related to their LGBTQ identity. Meanwhile, research conducted by Headstart found that 66% of Black American job seekers are frequently discriminated against when seeking new roles.
Despite society’s call for increased inclusivity in the workplace, these figures indicate that psychological safety in the workplace is still a big concern, especially for minority groups.
9 Steps for Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace
Psychological safety is easy to create. You just need patience and conviction as you begin to roll out programs and policies geared towards it. Remember that it takes time for new habits and work cultures to form.
- Make psychological safety an explicit work priority
As a company leader, you need to start talking about psychological safety. It should be discussed in executive meetings and strategic planning sessions. Everyone in the company must understand its importance and implications. They must see how it connects to company goals, such as workplace innovation, higher revenues, and thriving company culture.
You must also model the behaviors you want to see. Psychological safety is all about showing your employees that you understand them and give their inputs importance. Make sure they know that the company is open to honest feedback.
- Increase self-awareness in the workplace
Everyone has their own biases. By admitting this and uncovering those biases, we increase our self-awareness, which leads to improved relationships with the people around us. Uncovering these biases is important for those in management, including those assigned to recruitment. When biases are addressed, a more inclusive workplace is created.
- Allow everyone to speak up
Show genuine interest in what others have to say. Honor candor and honesty. Be open-minded in accepting the opinions and ideas of others. Always be truly engaged and avoid faking enthusiasm.
Displaying these behaviors will create an atmosphere where employees can feel safe to voice out their thoughts. Leaders should set the example by always showing compassion and empathy. This will pave the way for other team members to follow suit.
- Be an ally and champion your team
There will always be discrimination—it may not be blatant, but it exists even in small forms. Members of the LGBTQ group experience discrimination more than others. It’s amplified for LGBTQ who are of color.
They may feel safe at work but experience discrimination from customers and clients. BCG found out that 54% of employees who are out at work choose to be closeted around clients. This indicates that inclusivity hasn’t spread outside the workplace.
As their team leader, you should be their champion. Business owners must decide if they’re willing to commit to a path of real inclusivity while risking losing some clients.
- Establish norms for failure
Employees must be given the freedom to take reasonable risks and make mistakes. Failure encourages learning which gives rise to innovation. When employees make mistakes, avoid playing the blame game. Instead, take time to talk to them and ensure they learn the right lessons.
Encourage sharing these lessons, not to blame the person, but to show others how failure can turn out for good. When employees know that it’s alright to fail, they will be willing to tackle challenges and seek creative means to surpass them.
Mistakes should not always spur dire consequences. There’s nothing that stifles innovation more than a culture where employees are afraid to take risks for fear of punishment.
- Accept new and wild ideas
Let employees know what kind of ideas are acceptable. Are you willing to accept out-of-the-box ideas that are highly creative but are not well-formulated? Or would you only welcome ideas that have been thoroughly researched? When employees know what kind of ideas are expected from them, they’d feel empowered to pitch in.
Include employees in the decision-making process and show them how important decisions are made. It may be scary to be vulnerable, but a psychologically safe workplace is built on mutual trust and vulnerability.
- Embrace productive conflict
Conflicts are normal. Opinions will always differ and people will rally strongly behind their beliefs. Resolve these conflicts peacefully and democratically. Involve employees in conflict resolution and establish expectations for how these conflicts are to be handled.
If there is any negativity, nip it in the bud. Don’t allow it to fester because it’ll create chaos later. A psychologically safe workplace is one where employees can be comfortable holding different opinions because they know their opinions are heard and valued despite being different.
- Check up on your team regularly
Show concern and interest for your team beyond the work they do. Make it a habit to frequently check on how they’re doing, not just with their projects, but also personally. Taking an interest in your employees’ overall well-being creates a sense of camaraderie that can help them become more authentic at work.
Every workplace involves some level of personal sharing. When checking up on employees, always allow the other person to share as much or as little detail as they are comfortable doing so. You can arrange regular one-on-one meetings to personally talk with your employees. They may be time-consuming but are proven to elicit authentic responses.
- Remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution
Different individuals have different needs. Some may be comfortable sharing in a group while others prefer the privacy of a closed office. Others may prefer emails over face-to-face meetings.
Allow employees to share opinions in whatever manner they are comfortable with. You can even set up anonymous feedback systems that encourage unrestricted suggestions.
Why Psychological Safety in the Workplace Matters
Every employee deserves to feel safe in their own skin while at work. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Employees who feel safe are more productive and innovative. This results in better work contributions that lead to improved company performance. As a company cares for its employees, the results are manifested in its bottom line.
Beyond company revenues and employee personal satisfaction, creating psychological safety in the workplace is a step toward permanently ending discrimination. It’s the true mark of an ally who goes beyond displaying rainbow colors for Pride Month. It’s the embodiment of what Juneteenth stands for. Psychological safety in the workplace is proof that we have achieved genuine workplace inclusivity.