Improving Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Psychological safety in the workplace is critical in creating a healthy, productive, and innovative work environment. Employees who feel safe are more likely to speak up, share ideas, and take risks without fear of negative consequences. 

Introduced by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, the term psychological safety has gained significant attention in recent years as organizations struggle with employee engagement. In this blog, we will discuss the importance of employees feeling safe at work, how leaders can create a safe environment, and how leadership training can teach managers to support employee wellbeing.

Understanding Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is more than just a buzzword. It is the foundation of a thriving workplace. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to:

  • Innovate: Employees are unafraid to propose new ideas or challenge the status quo.
  • Engage: They show higher engagement, commitment, and loyalty to the organization.
  • Collaborate: They work more effectively in teams, sharing knowledge and supporting each other.
  • Develop: Employees are open to learning and personal growth, which benefits both the individual and the organization.

On the other hand, a lack of psychological safety can lead to fear, silence, and disengagement. When employees don’t feel valued and respected, it stifles innovation and hampers organizational performance. 

The Role of Leaders in Prioritizing Psychological Safety

Leaders play a pivotal role in creating and maintaining psychological safety in the workplace. According to Gallup’s  State of Global Workplace 2024 report, managers account for 70% of the variance in team employee engagement. This statistic underscores the significant impact that leaders have on the overall work environment.

Managers can promote psychological safety in the workplace in 5 key ways: 

  1. Model Vulnerability: Leaders who openly share their own mistakes and uncertainties set a powerful example for their teams. This behavior encourages employees to do the same without fear of judgment.
  2.  Encourage Open Communication: Establish regular check-ins, feedback sessions, and open-door policies. Effective communication is essential to create a culture of transparency and trust.
  3. Actively Listen: Demonstrating genuine interest in employees’ ideas and concerns fosters a sense of value and respect.
  4. Provide Constructive Feedback: Feedback should be specific and actionable. Delivering it in a way that focuses on growth and development rather than criticism is crucial.
  5. Support Risk-Taking: Encourage experimentation! Letting employees know failure is a normal part of the learning process can help them feel more secure in taking calculated risks.

The Impact of Psychological Safety on Employee Wellbeing

Employee wellbeing is directly linked to psychological safety. According to the State of Global Workplace 2024 report, global employee wellbeing declined from 35% to 34% in 2023. This decline was particularly felt by younger workers under 35. 

However, a focus on psychological safety can reverse this trend! Creating a more supportive and inclusive work environment is essential for overall wellbeing. Today’s leaders must move beyond traditional employee wellbeing programs and examine the levels of psychological safety in their teams.

Managers can have a significant impact on employee mental health and wellbeing by prioritizing the following: 

  • Mental Health Support: Encouraging open discussions about mental health and providing resources can significantly improve employee wellbeing.
  • Work-Life Balance: Flexible work arrangements and respecting personal time help employees manage stress and maintain a healthier work-life balance.
  • Recognition and Appreciation: Regularly acknowledging employees’ efforts and achievements can boost morale and motivation.

Leadership Training: Equipping Managers with the Right Skills

Leaders need the right skills and tools to build psychological safety in the workplace. Leadership training programs can be instrumental in developing these competencies. Offering professional development not only increases employee retention but also improves performance. Many managers are promoted for their performance as an employee but lack the skills needed to lead a team.

But how do you know if a leadership development program will equip your managers with the skills and knowledge they need? 

5 Key Components of Effective Leadership Training

  1. Emotional Intelligence (EI): Training leaders to understand and manage their own emotions and those of others is crucial for building trust and empathy within teams.
  2. Communication Skills: Effective communication training focuses on active listening, clear messaging, and conflict resolution.
  3. Coaching and Mentoring: Teaching leaders how to coach and mentor employees can encourage a culture of continuous learning and development.
  4. Diversity and Inclusion: Understanding and valuing diversity is essential for creating an inclusive environment where all employees feel safe and valued.
  5. Change Management: Equipping leaders with strategies to manage change can help them support their teams during transitions and uncertainty.

The Crestcom L.E.A.D.R. for Life program covers these essential elements and more. Participants learn from subject matter experts and get hands-on experience through role-playing and group discussions, preparing them for today’s workplace challenges. 

Psychological Safety Drives Organizational Success

Psychological safety in the workplace is a vital component of a healthy and productive organization. Studies show it can really affect a company’s bottom line. In fact, Gallup’s 2024 report also found that global employee engagement is stagnant at 23%, leaving 62% of the workforce not engaged and 15% actively disengaged. Gallup estimates low employee engagement costs the global economy $8.9 trillion, or 9% of global GDP. 

Case Study: Google’s Project Aristotle

Google’s Project Aristotle is a compelling case study for the importance of psychological safety in improving business outcomes. Initiated in 2012, this project aimed to identify the key factors contributing to the company’s high-performing teams. Google’s extensive research found that the most successful teams shared one critical characteristic: psychological safety. 

Teams where members felt safe taking risks, voicing their opinions, and making mistakes without fear of retribution or embarrassment were significantly more effective and innovative. This finding underscored the value of creating an environment where employees feel secure and supported. Google enhanced collaboration, creativity, and overall team performance by prioritizing psychological safety. 

A Call to Action for Leaders

As organizations navigate the challenges of today’s workplace, investing in psychological safety and leadership development is not just a strategic advantage but a necessity. A renewed focus on employees’ mental health and wellbeing can create a resilient and engaged workforce that is well-equipped to thrive.

In conclusion, creating a psychologically safe workplace requires commitment and action from all leaders. Through effective leadership and targeted training, organizations can build a culture where employees feel safe, valued, and empowered to contribute their best. This enhances individual wellbeing and drives collective success, ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future for the organization.