Safety First! The Buzz Around "Psychological Safety"

December 1, 2022

Safety First! The Buzz Around "Psychological Safety"

“Psychological safety at work doesn’t mean that everybody is nice all the time. It means that you embrace the conflict and you speak up, knowing that your team has your back, and you have their backs.”—David Altman, COO of CCL

“Psychological safety” is a term often brought up in recent leadership topics and conversations about productivity, employee engagement, and success. It is often linked to topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, and is now seen as a necessity in organizational culture.

Companies with collaborative cultures that make their employees feel like they belong see a big boost in productivity and a drop in employee turnover. Belonging means that people in an organization or group trust each other and feel safe with each other. And that's because safety isn’t limited to physical safety, it also involves mental, emotional, and psychological aspects as well.

Let’s face it. Even though generations have passed, biases still exist in the world of work, whether they are based on gender, age, social status, or race. We still see division in the office, and despite more companies claiming to be more inclusive and diverse, a lot of employees still experience microaggressions and other undermining behaviors based on some form of bias.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to make our businesses a safe space for our employees. So, how can we create psychologically safe environments?

What is psychological safety?

Simply put, psychological safety is “the feeling and belief that you can share your thoughts, opinions, and ideas freely without fear of being degraded or shamed.” (Source: BetterUp)

It is a term coined by Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School. According to her, it is essential in the workplace so that members of a team feel safe and free to share their ideas and speak up about problems.

Safety and a sense of belonging are basic human needs—and as we know, if it is a need, our subconscious will push for it to be met, one way or another. In the workplace, it is important to have psychological safety to support high performance within your team. Without it, you risk disengagement with your employees: After all, who would want to actively participate and give input if the people in their team just shut it down because of some bias?

It is up to us to learn more about it, have open conversations, and develop practices that will make psychological safety the “norm” in our offices.

Why is it important?

Collaboration and ideas are crucial to innovation and progress. You want to create a culture and environment that encourages your people to speak up and contribute.

Catching problems before they escalate is also crucial to productivity and overall organizational efficiency. But if your company doesn’t provide a safe space where your people can bring up issues and conflict. These problems can’t be brought up and tackled constructively at the early stages.

As mentioned earlier, psychologically safe workplaces also show high employee engagement. When your employees feel safe, their voices are heard, and their work is appreciated, they are more likely to keep working toward the mission.

Moreover, when they feel safe, they are able to collaborate with boldness and confidence, as well as hold healthy debates over conflicting ideas. This proves productive in the creative and decision-making processes, allowing teams to see the situation from different angles, therefore providing better, more well-rounded solutions.

Create inclusive safe spaces that value diversity of thought and experience. Diversity enriches an organization as a whole—from idea creation to system-building and execution. It sparks creativity and flexibility in thought, problem-solving, and decision-making.

As entrepreneurs, we always want to expand our businesses to cater to a wider market. This involves seeing things from different perspectives to gain a better understanding of your diverse audience.

Psychological safety also helps the mental health of your people. And we know that we need to be healthy, physically and mentally, in order to perform at optimal levels. It also boosts morale and, overall, just keeps your employees happy. Happy workers tend to be more productive and innovative.

Aside from that, a company that is good to its people is loved by the people outside the organization. There is something about “goodness” that makes people want to be ambassadors of that “goodness.” I think it stems from the fact that humans inherently want to be good, or at least seen as "good,” and supporting brands that promote kindness makes them feel “kind by association.”

Most of all, your strongest ambassadors are the people working within your organization. When you treat other people the way they want to be treated, the law of reciprocity states that they want to return the favor to you.

Lead with kindness and create a safe environment for your people. 

Thanks for reading A Brilliant Tribe.