A Guide to Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

According to a Gallup State of the American Workplace survey, a mere 3 out of 10 workers agreed strongly that their opinions at work mattered. That means that 7 out of 10 working Americans feel that their input at work is valued to some extent, on the high end. This is an example of how many workplaces lack psychological safety. According to the Center for Creative Learning, psychological safety is “…a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject or punish you for speaking up.”. Workplaces with psychological safety tap into the full talents of their employees and create space for innovation. Workplaces with a lack of psychological safety will have unhappy, timid, or checked-out employees who aren’t able to (or have any desire to) contribute beyond the bare minimum. In this article, we’ll discuss what psychological safety in the workplace is, why it’s important, the challenges to creating it, and how to create wellness in your workplace

What is Psychological Safety in the Workplace?

According to Forbes magazine, “Psychological safety is the ability to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career. In the workplace, it is a shared belief held by members of a company, department or team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”. A foundation stone of a psychologically safe workplace is the assumption of good intentions. Another description of a safe workplace is a place where what you do and say won’t be held or used against you—as long as your intentions were good. 

The Importance of Workplace Psychological Safety

There are serious consequences for organizations that lack psychological safety. Some of the most important ones for the organization are: 

  • The organization is vulnerable to failure if employees don’t feel safe enough to speak up.
  • The organization is losing out on potential contributions from its employees. 
  • Increased turnover.

Challenges in Building Psychological Safety

  • Changing a culture takes time and effort. It may be discouraging to see things moving slowly, or to have 1 step forward, 2 steps back kind of progress. Recognize that this process takes time, and will require patience.
  • Resistant team members

Often, there will be team members who are resistant to the process of creating psychological safety. Remain curious, open-minded, and empathetic with resistant team members. However, hold firm to the new rules, guidelines, norms, and expectations. 

  • Resistant leadership

Enroll leadership in the potential for increased productivity and innovation. Using data to show the lucrative benefits of shifting organizational culture to increase psychological safety may be the most effective tact with resistant leadership. 

How to Create Psychological Safety in the Workplace

As you take on the task of creating psychological safety in your workplace, it’s important to remember that your efforts, while vital, aren’t enough to create systemic change on their own. Solving a problem with the system requires effort on part of the system itself, or more accurately, from those that make up the system. Remember, this goal benefits the whole team and will ultimately come from the actions of each member of the team. 

To get started creating a culture of safety, ask your team these questions from Jake Herway, the Executive Advisor for Gallup. 

  1. What can we depend on one another for?
  2. What is the purpose of our team?
  3. What is the reputation that we want our team to have?
  4. What do we need to change to create that reputation and achieve our purpose?

The goal of these questions is to help the team find a shared identity and purpose. Coupling these questions with a focus on educating to solve the problem is another effective tool. This keeps people from becoming defensive and being unwilling to learn. Also on this note, it is important to admit to your errors and mistakes when it comes to psychological safety. Follow up by exhibiting curiosity and asking a lot of questions. 

Next, here are five practical tips from the Center for Creative Leadership for creating psychological safety at work. 

  • Be direct about safety being a priority.

Communicate clearly with your team about how psychological safety is a priority. Be clear about why this is important and how a lack of psychological safety leaves the organization vulnerable to failure and also robs the company of the full expression of its employee’s skills and talents. Be sure you model the behaviors you want to see, including practicing empathy with your co-workers. 

  • Facilitate space for everyone to speak up.

One way to do this is by asking questions and genuinely listening to the response. Be sure to recognize the bravery it may take for certain members of the team to speak up, or if someone challenges the way things are being done. Lead by example in these moments by practicing compassion, curiosity, receptivity, and empathy. 

  • Create new norms for how to handle failure.

Support reasonable risk-taking and experimental attempts. While these may lead to failures, it’s through this process that innovations occur. Offer encouragement to your team, help them to learn from their failures or mistakes, and share your own times of disappointment. The lessons learned from these kinds of circumstances are valuable.  

  • Make space for all ideas, even wild ones.

When brainstorming a task or problem, consider making it clear that all ideas are welcome, even if they have not been well thought out. While this might not be an appropriate tact to take for every meeting, there are some cases where this kind of strategy could yield valuable fruit. And, it is part of the overall practice of cultivating a safe, open-minded workplace that supports innovation and creativity. 

  • Teach and encourage productive conflict. 

This is an area where coaching may be required, whether for you or the team or both. You can start the process by encouraging team members to dialogue with each other and engage in debates that support the team’s goals. This process, like any large change, will likely take place in small steps over time. Here are three conversation topics about productive conflict that you can bring to your team.

  1. When a process isn’t working, how do we communicate our concerns?
  2. If a team member has a concern about a colleague, how do they communicate respectfully?
  3. When it comes to conflicting personalities, what are our standards for handling these situations?

Out of this discussion will come insights into how your organization currently handles conflict and a roadmap to better practices. Remember, when it comes to psychological safety in the workplace, you’re dealing with the organization’s culture as a whole. And cultural change comes slowly, in incremental steps. Each step forward is a victory and celebrating them can help stave off any sense of overwhelm. 

Creating Safety with BioFunctional Health Solutions (BHS)

One active and tangible way to create psychological safety within your organization is with wellness challenges. BHS offers wellness challenges designed for any organization, from Fortune 500 businesses to smaller teams. Wellness challenges, like weekly steps competitions, are tailored to your organization’s specific needs and are fun ways to bring your team together and create better health. Offering a wellness program to your team demonstrates the care you and your organization have for them. This fosters an increased sense of psychological safety, and that’s not all. According to Corporate Wellness Magazine, 70% of employees that take part in a wellness challenge report higher job satisfaction. And, 91% of workers at companies that prioritized wellness efforts say they feel more motivated to do their best at their jobs, according to the American Psychological Association. Ready to get started on increasing psychological safety in your workplace? Reach out to us at BHS today to get started.