Updated: Jan 23
Have you ever?
Have you ever sat in a meeting hearing things said that you don't agree with? You might even feel angry, and you might 'zone out', or 'go quiet'.
Have you ever made a mistake at work, and felt too afraid to tell your boss? Did it feel like a weight on your shoulders? A battle between your morals and your fears?
Have you ever wished that you could be open and honest at work? Just be yourself, and contribute safely to the workplace? It is likely that you (and your colleagues) all have lots of ideas for innovation, but sadly they often remain in your mind, and in their minds.
If you can relate to these scenarios, it is likely that you have experienced a psychologically unsafe environment at work.
Here, I want to explain what Psychological Safety is in the workplace, and why it is important.
So, what is Psychological Safety?
The term was popularised by Dr Amy Edmondson when she published her article 'Psychological Safety and Learning Behaviour in teams' in 1999.
Psychological Safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking (Dr Amy Edmondson)
Psychological Safety describes the relational aspect of leadership. How we connect to each other in order to feel accepted, respected, and able to contribute and make our voice heard.
What are the Benefits of Psychological Safety?
Like anything, we need to know why this is important before we make any kind of changes. We need to have some understanding and connection to the problem to feel motivated to take action.
Here is a brilliant sketch summarising some results of a systematic review into the benefits of Psychological Safety.
The study Psychological Safety: A systematic review of the literature. Human Resource Management Review, 27(3),521-535 by Newman, A., Donohue, R., & Eva, N. (2017) highlights the benefits:
Better levels of communication, sharing of knowledge, and levels of engagement
More openness to learning, including learning from failure
Improved performance with more creativity and innovation
Positive employee attitudes, including more commitment to the organisation
Increased levels of initiative, such as identifying ways to work around processes that impact performance
Do you want this for your team?
If you are keen to make changes NOW, here are 5 changes you can implement TODAY. You can enhance psychological safety in your team, and make sure that your staff do not want to work anywhere else.
Role Model Making Mistakes - Get comfortable with saying 'I don't know', and sharing your own work mistakes with your team. This builds trust, and lets them know it is safe to make mistakes. It is IMPORTANT to make mistakes, as it aids our learning. In fact, catastrophic mistakes are most likely averted if we start to share the small mistakes, and normalise 'not knowing', and 'not getting it right'. The fantasy of a perfect boss or leader can lead to alienation and disconnection which drives fear, not psychological safety.
Be Transparent - On a similar vein of honesty and sharing, let your team know that you are wanting to increase psychological safety. Shout it from the rooftops and let them be part of it. Get their invaluable feedback.
Invite All Feedback - Consistently ask for ideas, challenges, and opinions from your team. Let them know their voice is important. Be open minded, and mindful of dismissing suggestions, or making giving feedback in any way a negative experience for your team. If they feel safe to share, excellent - you will get golden information from them to guide your leadership and the business. If they do not feel psychologically safe, you will miss out on all these golden nuggets of wisdom.
Be Reflective - Allow yourself to compassionately reflect on your leadership style. If this all seems a new or different concept, that is okay. Change happens when we at first notice, and we stop to think about new ways of working. If you are already harnessing psychological safety in your team, can you see any gaps? Can you ask them how else you may foster this sense of safety?
Connect, Connect, Connect - Psychological Safety is essentially about relationships, relationships, relationships. By simply having genuine curiosity and interest in your team, you will be on the road to building a psychologically safe environment. You know you are on the right track when your team members feel they can openly challenge the status quo, or offer an alternative opinion without the fear of consequences. That is the main goal. Fear is NOT a motivator, but stressful environments often fall into this trap. If we can notice it, we can change it.
We learned that there are 3 key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google..... Psychological safety was by far and away the most important
Julia Rozovsky, People Analytics Manager, Google
If you want to find out more about me and my services, you can explore my website https://www.drelainesmith.com/business-wellbeing-consultancy. We can set up a video call or a telephone call for a 15 minute free consultation, or you can book a 60 minute paid consultation directly on my website.
Keep an eye out for new resources coming.
Please feel free to email me with any questions or ideas you may have.
Thanks so much for reading,
Dr Elaine Smith