Ensuring Psychological Safety in your Workplace

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​For Work Safe Month, there are many ways to explore being and feeling safe at work. In this month’s article, we look at the role of psychological safety at work, and how we can create an environment where our employees feel psychologically safe.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is when employees hold a comfortable belief and trust that they “will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes" in the workplace.[1]

Ultimately, it is about creating a space where employees feel secure to:

  • Speak up and share ideas

  • Own their mistakes

  • Take risks

  • Explore innovative ideas

  • Be open and honest with feedback and thoughts

Why is it important?

Psychological safety at work is important for employees to feel comfortable in not only being themselves, but in bringing new ideas to the table even if risky or unconventional.

If people are fearful of negative consequences when they make a mistake, they may be more likely to display dishonest behaviours and be weary of taking accountability.

If they are fearful of negative consequences when sharing ideas or feedback, they may work with less creativity, feel isolated or unheard in their role, and/or quietly become disengaged (leading to lower productivity and employee dissatisfaction).

Ultimately, everyone deserves to feel psychologically safe at work to help them bring their best to the table.

Ensuring psychological safety will encourage the following in your workplace:

  • Innovative ideas or solutions

  • Strong feedback culture for effective improvement

  • Employees who feel valued and respected

  • Employees who feel accepted and encouraged

  • Motivated employees who are more likely to take initiative

  • Less employee turnover

How to create psychological safety at work

Create clear expectations

Without clear expectations around work performance, it can be hard for employees to measure and understand what their goals are, and therefore can lead to unsureness and loss of direction. Each employee should have their own goals, as well as an understanding of overall team and business goals so that there is a clear understanding of what they are working towards with you and with other colleagues.

Show your engagement

Be mindful to prove you are engaged with your team and the people you work with. This could look like:

  • Being present in meetings

  • Re-capping and asking questions

  • Listening to others' suggestions

  • Asking people for their input/opinion

Avoid blame, ask questions instead

When errors are occurring and mistakes are being made, it can be easy to become frustrated. However, if we take a moment and instead of blaming someone immediately, we ask them a few questions, we may be able to get to the root of an issue instead.

Promote self-awareness

You can show self-awareness in several ways, and it’s important to do so, so that others can follow your lead. Self-awareness brings in emotional intelligence and can help us see things from multiple perspectives to understand how others work best leaving little room for miscommunication.

Self-awareness can look like:

  • Being your unique self

  • Explaining or displaying your work style

  • Taking responsibility or discussing sharing responsibilities

  • Owning your own mistakes

  • Letting people know your communication preferences

  • Talking people through how you work or figure things out

  • Sharing what kind of recognition you appreciate

Listen to and action feedback

Clearly, it is important that we are open to receiving feedback, and then, after listening to it, we take steps to action change. This shows employees that what they say is valid, valuable and definitely taken into account. It can open opportunity for feedback to flow freely back and forth between employee and employer to create a better workplace for all.

Celebrate your team

It’s important to show appreciation for your team, especially when they share new and great ideas. This creates a space where innovation is rewarded rather than negatively received, creating a safe space. It’s also important to show recognition in general to help employees feel valued in their roles.

Communicate transparently

Transparent communication allows space for employees to feel and be involved with the ‘bigger picture’ encouraging feelings of value and meaningful work. It also displays a level of exposure that can help build trust between employees and employers.

Normalise vulnerability and care in the workplace

Checking in with your colleagues, sharing a little of your stress or struggle (and how you overcome it), and generally participating in purely social interactions are all things that can help normalise the ‘human’ experience. We are not worker robots, and we cannot be expected to perform at the same rate constantly – especially when life circumstances intervene. Showing vulnerability encourages your people to be honest and open too. It can help determine any root causes to performance issues down the track by asking simple questions and understanding what may be affecting your employees.

Implement time for discussion

Lastly, it’s good not to just casually ask for feedback or ideas. Set formal time aside in a meeting scenario with a clear agenda so that people have time to think about what they would like to share. Creating a specific time and session for open discussion is a big sign to your employees that you want to hear from them and can ultimately help create a psychologically safe environment.

[1] https://www.jstor.org/stable/2666999?origin=crossref&seq=1

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