Creating and sustaining cultures where individuals can achieve a sense of belonging is the end game for organizations today. Organizations continue to struggle to fully engage and retain the talent they need to be successful. Psychological safety is a critical element in fostering cultures where belonging can flourish.
Psychological safety refers to the shared belief within a team or organization that it is safe to express one’s authentic self and to take interpersonal or professional risks without fear of negative consequences. In psychologically safe environments, individuals feel comfortable not only expressing their ideas, but to be themselves without fear of judgment or shame. Individuals feel at ease to share concerns, take initiative, admit mistakes and offer feedback without facing retribution or humiliation. Additionally, a psychologically safe workplace reduces employees’ stress and anxiety levels, positively impacting mental health and contributing to overall well-being.
Psychological safety in an organization is important to that organization’s success in multiple ways.
A psychologically safe environment improves individual employee performance, specifically through higher levels of engagement and commitment. Employees in psychologically safe workplaces are more engaged and committed to their work. They feel a sense of belonging and are more likely to stay with the organization long-term.
Employees who feel safe at work will be more likely to show innovation and creativity, sharing their ideas openly and offering opinions on the ideas of others. The likelihood of better problem-solving and decision-making increases exponentially when diverse perspectives are expressed and valued.
Psychological safety can reduce the fear of failure and allow employees to feel that they can take reasonable risks. In safe environments, employees are less afraid of making mistakes. This encourages informed risk-taking and experimentation, leading to continuous learning and improvement.
Safe environments help teams of employees feel more cohesive. They trust each other, communicate openly, are more open to collaboration and step in to support one another – all of which improves overall team performance and productivity.
Psychological safety is a crucial factor in driving engagement and inclusion. When individuals feel valued and heard, they are more likely to contribute, irrespective of their background or identity. A safe environment is one in which employees feel free to “be themselves” and spend less time worrying about “fitting in” to an established model and spend more time on productive, meaningful contributions.
Our research suggests that there are key strategies a company can implement to increase psychological safety.
A recent study conducted by Talent Dimensions with 6,257 respondents explored what items/concepts contribute most to a sense of psychological safety.
Our findings indicate six key areas an organization should focus on to promote psychological safety.
- Promote diversity and inclusivity: Foster an inclusive environment where different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences are valued and appreciated. In an environment where all backgrounds and cultures are treated as equally valuable no matter what they are, employees will experience a sense of belonging and will likely be more engaged and more likely to extend respect to others.
- Encourage collaboration and crosstalk: In an environment where employees are encouraged to speak up and share knowledge with one another, collaboration and innovation increase, and employees feel empowered. Empowered employees feel safe and are even more open to freely sharing knowledge and expertise.
- Provide all employees with opportunities for development: When employees feel competent in their roles, they are more likely to speak up and share their ideas. Offering training and development opportunities can boost confidence and encourage participation. Training in skills sometimes referred to as “soft skills” can be extremely beneficial. Programs focused on topics such as Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB), leadership and professional development, communication and feedback and interpersonal effectiveness can build competence and confidence in valuable transferable skills.
- Promote fairness and equity: In an environment where employees are confident that they will receive fair and equitable treatment, they are much more likely to feel safe. When they know they can expect their managers and organization to treat them equitably, that no one is “above the law,” they will be more likely to be open and admit mistakes or ask for help. They are also less likely to worry about what other people, groups or teams are doing, allowing them to focus their time and energy on their own work.
- Lead by example: It starts at the top. Leaders who demonstrate vulnerability, are open to and willing to listen to feedback, and are approachable show that they value diverse perspectives and set the tone for the entire organization. Behaviors and actions must accompany and align with words and promises.
- Establish and enforce guidelines for respectful behavior: Clearly define the boundaries of acceptable behavior in the workplace and make accountability a priority. This can include guidelines for giving feedback, resolving conflicts and treating colleagues with respect, as well as ensuring the company has clear and comprehensive policies in place to prevent harassment and discrimination, institutionalize inclusion and promote psychological safety. Employees need to experience an environment where their well-being is taken seriously – as seriously as any other policies or processes the organization follows.
By implementing strategies centered on these key areas, an organization can create an environment where employees feel safe to express themselves, share ideas and collaborate effectively – an organization where psychological safety is a part of the employee experience.
It’s important not to stop there! Monitoring and measuring the shift to a psychologically safe workspace is essential to becoming an environment where employees feel they belong. Organizations can manage and measure the level of psychological safety in the following ways:
- Regular pulse surveys: Conduct confidential pulse surveys – short, targeted surveys that measure a single construct – to gather feedback from employees about their perceptions of psychological safety. These short surveys can provide valuable insights into areas that may need improvement and can track progress over time, allow organizations to spot changes in trends, make course corrections, detect impact of actions taken and redirect as needed.
- Feedback systems: Create systems for open communication and channels within the organization for free and open exchange of input. Encourage their use formally and informally. Provide multiple methods for employees to voice concerns or ideas, anonymously if needed, ensuring they can do so without fear of reprisal.
- Manager observation: Prepare managers and leaders to actively observe team dynamics and communication patterns and identify signs of psychological safety or lack thereof. Gathering this information can be accomplished informally through meetings and group settings or using more formal online data collection tools.
- Report back to the organization: It is critical that the information gathered be shared within the organization transparently, including what was learned and what actions will be taken as a result.
By prioritizing and monitoring psychological safety, organizations can create a more inclusive, innovative, and productive work environment that will benefit the employees and the success of the organization.