Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

psychological safety

Psychological safety is a person’s willingness to take risks without fear of repercussions. In the workplace, taking risks could look like asking questions, proposing solutions, expressing concerns, and making mistakes. Feeling psychologically safe leads to knowledge sharing and has big implications for performance and innovation. Investing in innovation without investing in psychological safety will likely be unsuccessful.

The Great Resignation, the term used to describe the record-breaking number of employees that resigned or retired during the COVID-19 pandemic, is largely a result of the lack of psychological safety that people were feeling. During this time, only 26% of workers reported that they felt psychologically safe. Higher levels of burnout, stress, and feelings of loneliness can lead to high turnover that costs employers a lot of money. It’s not a surprise that organizations are interested in supporting the well-being of their employees.

Lowering burnout and building an environment of psychological safety is key. Businesses can do this by making available tools that support mental well-being, reduce unnecessary stressors at work and build a healthy and inclusive culture that drives connection. These tips will help you build trust and safety among employees.

Address Environmental Stressors

Environmental factors, ones that we can control and those we cannot, can create enormous psychological safety issues. Efforts to eliminate unnecessary environmental stressors can go a long way in improving psychological safety at work and building trust. When a certain factor cannot be reduced or eliminated, then helping employees manage their reaction to it and putting healthy boundaries in place will help.

Suppose the manufacturing area of your business can be intolerably hot in the summer months. Be sure that reasonable steps are taken to keep workers safe and comfortable. Solutions could include the use of fans, frequent breaks in an air-conditioned space, and adjusting schedules to avoid the hottest times of the day.

Supply chain challenges have been a common stressor in 2021 and 2022. The pressure this can put on sales, planning, and logistics teams can be frustrating. If finding another supplier is not an option or does not solve the problem, simply understanding the challenge and being reasonable about the outcome will help ease burnout.

Ask for feedback from your team (see the next section) for ideas on how to solve some of these environmental stressors.

Create Opportunities to Connect

Having the structures in place to foster connection, interaction, and feedback can accelerate communication. Think of these as intentional opportunities throughout the day for employees to ask questions and share opinions. These are just a few ideas of the ways to get started:

  • Leaders could create time each day or week to open their doors to conversation, feedback, or simply small talk.
  • During meetings, encourage employees to ask questions or invite them to disagree with you. Ask employees to present their ideas or findings publicly.
  • Create chat channels on Slack or another communication tool to share these ideas as a post. As a leader, comment on these posts.

Create an Expectation of Connection and Emotional Intelligence

Mental well-being and psychological safety programs start at the top, the executive level. Model emotional intelligence by showing self-awareness and empathy and encourage your team to do the same. Put these skills into practice when responding to these new feedback and communication systems. No one will want to post an idea on Slack if they are publicly embarrassed for doing so. Instead, celebrate input and ask for more feedback from your team.

Create an open dialogue about mental well-being and provide resources to address common challenges. Assessments and training resources are readily available and can build a positive workplace culture that nurtures inclusivity.

Provide, and be sure to participate in, programs that raise awareness, eliminate the stigma and improve mental awareness. Fitness and nutrition programs can be great team activities, and areas to relax and meditate at work can help manage stress. Ask your team if they need help with their work/life balance or managing priorities and provide them with useful resources to do so.

Model reasonable work hours and take paid time off. Everyone needs time away from work to recharge and connect with family.

Psychological Safety at Work Drives Innovation and Employee Retention

Fostering an environment at work where employees feel comfortable asking questions, sharing their opinion, and taking risks can help reduce burnout and reduce turnover. Innovation without psychological safety is an environment that will likely lead to failure. When workers do not feel safe sharing a new idea, innovation comes to a grinding halt. Create a workplace that embraces communication and connection. Reduce unnecessary stressors when possible and implement programs that strengthen mental well-being.

To learn more about creating psychological safety in the workplace, listen to the TTA Bring Out the Talent podcast with Allessandria Polizzi, PhD, CEO and Founder of Verdant Consulting.