As well as physical safety in the workplace, there’s another kind of safety which benefits not only employees, but also their employers and even the organisation as a whole: psychological safety.
Where psychological safety is lacking within an organisation, so too are collaboration, the spirit of innovation, and even the motivation to improve performance in any way.
The long term effect? Stagnation, at best. After all, if everybody slavishly agrees to the one idea their boss suggests because they’re too frightened not to, that’s just the single idea that gets carried forward, whether it’s good or bad. On the other hand, if ten people feel free enough to put ten different ideas forward there’s a much better chance of one – or more – of those ideas resulting in a benefit to the organisation.
And when it comes to individual team members in a psychologically unsafe environment, we see a vicious circle: the lack of psychological safety undermines morale, so people try to hide their mistakes, and pay less attention than they should to feedback they receive. They feel they have to conform to the status quo whether or not they agree with it, and as a result they can suffer from stress and anxiety. This leads to worsening performance and lowered productivity, which can result in management dissatisfaction – shown in whatever way - which, of course, lowers team morale even further. In short, it’s a downward
But that circle can be broken: psychological safety can be created and maintained within an organisation, and it’s well worth the effort – especially in uncertain times such as these.
Essentially psychological safety could be considered an umbrella term describing the four levels of safety essential for collaboration and innovation within any organisation, and for the wellbeing of its people.
And those four levels of safety?
· Inclusion safety is the feeling of acceptance within the team, enough to express identity, opinions and emotions without the fear of exclusion or judgement.
· Learner safety eliminates the fear of looking stupid when asking questions, and the fear of getting things wrong while acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills.
· Contributor safety allows a team member to make suggestions and take action without the fear of those suggestions being rejected, or that action being criticised.
· And finally, Challenger safety means there's no fear of disapproval of any kind when questioning or challenging the status quo and proposing changes.
Once psychological safety has been established within an organisation, collaboration and innovation improve as team members support each other while feeling free to learn, experiment and contribute by sharing information to solve problems and, most importantly, doing it all … together.
But how can leaders establish – and maintain - psychological safety?
· By creating a sense of shared ownership and accountability with honest and open communication about the challenges and opportunities facing the organisation. That would include invitations for feedback, questions and suggestions from their teams.
· By creating a culture of trust and mutual support where leaders demonstrate empathy – and perhaps even vulnerability - while recognising and respecting the personal challenges faced by their team members.
· By creating a sense of belonging and even camaraderie among team members by providing them with opportunities such as team-building activities so they get to know each other better, both personally and professionally.
· By creating a sense of competence, confidence and pride within teams, by closely monitoring and offering feedback on their personal and professional progress, and by recognising their efforts and celebrating their achievements.
And the net result?
A team that feels safe and secure enough to voice their opinions, share their ideas and make needed changes, leading to more personal satisfaction, a more professional perspective … and therefore improved performance throughout the organisation as a whole.
So it’s definitely worth ensuring your employees are enjoying the psychological safety they deserve. We’re here to help you identify any changes that need to be made in the workplace, and to help you make them. Contact us to learn how.
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