Who Else Wants to Know the Mysteries Behind Psychological Safety at Work

A workplace culture where people feel safe to speak up and challenge norms, has extensive business benefits and can have a direct affect on the bottom line.

The question is – do people feel psychologically safe at work? Recent research collected perceptions of psychological safety from a cross-section of workers. The results suggest that workplace emotional safety levels need some work.

In environments where psychologically safety is lacking, team members are less likely to speak up and challenge the behaviours of others or the status quo. A psychologically safe culture fosters an environment where all team members feel empowered to question the behaviours and decisions of others and to call out questionable practices.

How to foster and encourage psychological safety

Although leadership behaviours are crucial to encourage a safe culture, every person in your organisation has their own part to play. Here are a few ways you can embed a mindset of safety into your team.

  • Be available. This helps reassure team members that you have their back. And when you do interact with your team be positive, open and approachable. You could even formalise this by having a ‘drop in’ time once a week when any person can drop in for a chat.

  • Reward good behaviour. Acknowledge and reward people who speak up and share their ideas and points of view.

  • Be courageous. People feel less afraid to take risks and make a mistake if their leader models humility and admits that they need their team to fill in the skill gaps that they don’t possess.

  • Debate is good. Get people to share their ideas freely in a safe space. One way to do this is by getting people to take the perspective of others to understand how their team mates are feeling. If your team isn’t quite ready for this yet, get a group discussion going by writing ideas down.

  • Hear each other's stories. Encouraging people to talk about themselves and their story can establish connections between team members, as well as developing empathy and intimacy.

  • Encourage experimentation. Support and reassure people who want to innovate or challenge the status quo. Don’t punish failure, show gratitude for efforts.

  • Show interest. Ask questions to encourage people to share their ideas. When people feel that their managers want to hear from them and value their perspectives they are more likely to input to discussions.

  • Encourage collaboration. Be clear that you’d like everyone to contribute to decision making. But don’t let one person dominate. If you notice someone who is quiet, but you know they have great ideas to share, actively invite their contribution.

  • Get feedback. Make sure you check in with your team members and peers, formally and informally, to get feedback on your leadership capability and behaviours.

  • Promote friendships. When people trust each other, they become less fearful of exposing their vulnerabilities. Provide opportunities for people to connect on a more social basis. This can range from a casual morning coffee run, to monthly lunch outings.

  • Showcase competencies. People may do one role in their current organisation but many of us have worn more than one hat during our career. Ask your team to share a brief overview of their career history and proudest accomplishments to highlight the unique contributions each individual brings to the group.

Creating a workplace culture where people feel safe to make mistakes, speak up and challenge norms has many benefits, from increased engagement, to improved productivity and organisational performance. Fostering such an environment takes some effort and focus but it’s worth it.

Author: Peter Robinson
Team Leadership Services