Psychological safety provides employees with confidence and a sense of belonging to perform at their best. However, the term “psychological safety” is a catch-all that organisational leaders can achieve through a series of carefully coordinated steps.
The lack of psychological safety at work may lead to undiscussed ideas, poor communication, a lack of creativity, and other unproductive instances. A workplace where there is a fear of rejection leads to multiple missed opportunities – specifically insights and creativity from the varied unique perspectives of employees.
Some industry experts have compared the concept of psychological safety with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Individuals must fulfill their basic needs (i.e., rest, security, etc.) and gradually progress to the peak of the pyramid (self-actualisation in the case of Maslow’s model).
Similarly, in psychological safety, leaders must first provide workers with the safety of inclusion and feel welcome and accepted before developing the confidence and support to challenge and improve the status quo.
Step 1 – The Safety of Inclusion
Inclusion relates to acceptance. Organisational leaders should create a culture where every employee feels welcome and appreciated regardless of creed or background. As such, there is a need to embrace individual characteristics, strengths, and thought processes.
Employers can assess workers by investing time in identifying the traits of each worker and discovering how they fit best with organisational goals. More importantly, organisational leaders need to eliminate any perceived tension between team members and facilitate mutual understanding and collaboration.
Celebrating small wins can help boost team morale and keep employees focused on their tasks and objectives. One way to achieve this is by debriefing after the end of every workweek or project, where workers can reflect on their accomplishments and progress in a transparent fashion.
Additionally, a culture of celebration may extend beyond physical workplace roles, building strong and lasting bonds that keep workers satisfied and comfortable.
Step 2 – The Safety of Learning
Leaders can establish the safety of learning once workers have received the support they need to feel at ease within the workplace. The safety of learning goes beyond providing opportunities for organisational training and development.
The ideal workplace environment should enable employees to engage in the open exchange of feedback and experimentation to help an organisation scale. Employees should not be under fire for committing errors but instead, receive information and guidance for improved performance.
While it is counterintuitive to welcome conflict at the workplace, a minor disagreement may lead to significant learning opportunities if promoted in a controlled environment. Healthy disputes involve a clash of ideas and never on a personal level – rubbing views off co-workers is like sharpening a blade, resulting in the sharpest points.
Marketing and communications expert Amy Kan stresses the importance of conflict in quality leadership, “If you’ve ever worked for a leader who avoided conflict, you know. When they look the other way, the problems fester, morale drops, and the leader loses the respect of their employees.”
Step 3 – The Safety of Contributing
The safety of learning provides employees with the knowledge and skills to contribute to the workplace and make a positive difference. Leaders should offer opportunities where workers can effectively do their part in making lasting contributions.
A sense of purpose is a driving force in the modern workforce, and it is a sentiment that should exist across all roles. Employers should openly show appreciation for individual contributions and explain how every action leads to far-reaching outcomes. Workers should never feel like mere cogs within a system – but dynamic talents who offer a unique service.
AccessEAP’s Clinical Director, Marcela Slepica, shared, “finding purpose in both personal and professional life has been proven to make a huge impact on one’s productivity, happiness, and even their health.”
Step 4 – The Safety of Challenging
At the peak of psychological safety lies the safety of challenging the status quo. Employees cannot achieve this without the proper support through inclusion, learning, and contributions. The most successful organisations thrive from a constant flow of ideas and innovation through new perspectives.
Employees who reach the safety of challenges have the freedom to voice their opinions and may directly influence the future of the organisation. Organisational leaders can establish this by encouraging workers to brainstorm for novel alternatives in solving existing problems or upgrading legacy systems.
There are multiple approaches to encouraging employees to speak up, such as establishing a culture of trust (open-door policies where employees can share their concerns and woes without second thoughts), or asking for more information beyond superficial statements (i.e., I’m good, or It was great). Request details and pay attention to the answers without judgement.
Building the Perfect Structure for Psychological Safety
While psychological safety might seem like rocket science when divided into its bare essentials – it is pretty straightforward. A workplace with psychological safety is a space where everyone can collaborate and drive toward success.
Employers need to build an environment that follows the adage – treat others as you would like to be treated. Constantly learn about preferences, requests, suggestions – and let workers feel appreciated as unique individuals.
Organisational leaders can assess the current level of psychological safety at the workplace by asking themselves a couple of critical questions:
– Is feedback well-received and commonly requested at the workplace?
– Do employers seek assistance from co-workers without hesitation when in doubt?
-Do workers communicate with colleagues beyond the office door?
-Are employees open to discussing sensitive or challenging conversations?
-Do employees invest themselves beyond their job scope and initiate assistance in other areas?
If the answer is “no” to most or all of the questions, it is time to look into the psychological safety of your organisation.
However, psychological safety takes time, and leaders should not rush the process. Building genuine, lasting relationships requires effort from all sides, with employers leading the charge.
But once firmly established, psychological safety will keep your workforce engaged and ever ready to adapt according to the shifting needs of the industry and organisation.
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