Psychological Safety at Work Doesn’t Simply Mean That Everybody Is Nice All of the Time

Francesca Foster takes a look at the value of having a psychologically safe workplace.

Psychological safety at work is the shared belief that employees will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and the team feels like a safe place for interpersonal risk taking. When you have psychological safety in a workplace, employees feel comfortable being themselves - teammates bring their full selves to work. Employees do not fear getting things wrong, as boundaries within the workplace are understood and there is a common understanding that everyone is allowed to make mistakes.

A psychologically safe workplace promotes a feeling of security. This might look like employees being able to speak up in meetings, without being undermined or brushed aside. Or, having an appropriate person to go to share concerns and receive additional support. It’s the understanding that people won’t be belittled for their errors, they’ll instead be helped and guided. Psychological safety isn’t a new concept, however, in the wake of the pandemic and with so many people now working remotely, psychological safety has recently become a more salient issue. Particularly as hybrid working means that organisations are having to work harder to make sure staff are building and maintaining strong relationships.

Employees must feel accepted before they feel able to contribute fully in ways which improve their organisation. A psychologically safe culture is one where everyone feels included and valued and strengths and diversity are celebrated. Strengths-based approaches contribute towards psychological safety, both in the office and remotely, by promoting a culture of appreciation. Having an undercurrent of gratitude and encouragement from colleagues helps employees feel safe to take risks - resulting in more ideas being heard and shared. Publicly pointing out strengths builds self-esteem and positivity. Employees feel secure and reassured, because they have been told by their colleagues what strengths they admire in them.

Employee performance will improve as a result of creating a psychologically safe workplace and when employees feel safe and engaged at work, turnover rates are lower. Showing value and appreciation for employees reduces stress levels and workers are more likely to collaborate – which leads to more creativity and new ideas being shared and heard.

Repeated exposure to appreciative feedback means that employees will also be more open to receiving constructive criticism, because they are receiving it from a place of ‘safety’ and feeling valued. When employees receive regular strengths-based feedback, they have a confidence that they’re competent; they know they’re making a valid contribution – knowledge which encourages productive, positive emotions which contribute towards psychological safety. This brings huge benefits to businesses: when there is no blame culture and instead there’s psychological safety, employee wellbeing is elevated, ideas are constructively challenged and innovation happens.



N.B. If you’re interested in using a strengths-based tool to help to build psychological safety, take a look at our At My Best 360 feedback tool.

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