How to Create Psychological Safety at Work

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Date:

July 14, 2022

Author:

Milan Kordestani

Entrepreneur, writer, and founder of 3 purpose-driven companies oriented toward giving individuals control over their own discourse and creation. Milan works to produce socially positive externalities through a mindset of social architecture.

Hi! I'm Milan, an LA based founder and writer, architecting impact-first businesses.

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If you want your team to be engaged, productive, and satisfied in their roles, creating psychological safety at work is crucial. In the past, it was common for employers to focus on individual accomplishments and discourage collaborative discourse, thus creating a competitive and often stressful environment for employees. Today, workplaces are emphasizing collaboration and shared goals, and the focus is shifting to creating a collaborative and comfortable work culture for all team members. This change brought some positive benefits: boosting employee engagement, reducing conflicts, and increasing productivity among teams. In addition, the freedom of working from home with flexible work hours has further eliminated the geographical barriers that have previously limited collaboration.  To leverage these positive changes, it’s important for leaders to make sure that their team members feel included in the company culture. Many businesses fail to foster a healthy work environment where employees feel included, and establishing psychological safety at work is imperative to overcoming this challenge.

What is Psychological Safety at Work?

Psychological safety empowers team members to share their unique ideas, ask questions, and take risks that push them ahead on their professional journey. Psychological safety in the workplace supports team members as human beings and promotes their emotional well-being. As a leader, creating a civil environment at work should be your top priority to foster understanding, coordination, and creativity within your team. This can be achieved by practicing civil discourse, where employees are assured their team won’t judge them for voicing their unique opinions.Acknowledging every employee’s contribution and practicing openness during discourse builds a positive work culture. When leaders take such initiatives, the employees feel more comfortable and connected within the team. Valuing people and their unique skills, and encouraging team members to express themselves freely leads to a solution-oriented atmosphere where the entire team is working towards a shared goal.

How Can I Tell if a Team is Safe?

Being that many businesses still struggle to create an environment where employees feel safe voicing their concerns, it’s difficult for team members to identify whether a workplace offers the psychological safety they’re searching for. Psychology safety in a team environment largely depends on leadership. The leader's influence on other team members—and their willingness to listen to that influence—will make the difference between an unsafe and a safe environment. The way you treat your team when they seek guidance, share a concern, or make a mistake impacts the company’s culture. Leadership behavior is a crucial factor in assessing the employees’ well-being and level of safety. A team can be considered psychologically safe if the members share a sense of comfort while communicating, collaborating, or contributing their part within the company’s growth. Here are a few approaches you can use to assess the psychological safety of a team:

  • Conduct personalized surveys to understand the team’s concerns.
  • Communicate one-on-one with employees to understand whether they are comfortable with the work environment. If not, ask for their suggestions and take note.
  • Review the initiatives the company takes to instill a sense of belonging in the employees.
  • Assess whether the tone and language of the employees remains respectful when they express disagreements.
  • Find how the team handles criticism. If they resort to playing blame games and don’t view it as an opportunity to learn, they aren’t feeling psychologically safe.

The Importance and Benefits of Psychological Safety

As a leader, you will undoubtedly encounter conflict within your team from time to time. If team members know how to embrace and discuss their differences, it creates a healthy work environment. Building psychologically safe workplaces is a key step to thrive in our diverse and modern world. Here are some of the benefits of fostering such work culture:

  • Improves productivity

When employees feel psychologically safe at work, they easily connect and bond together. This builds their enthusiasm while presenting ideas and collaborating with others. Safe and positive workplaces empower employees to be creative and value their opinions. This inspires the team to remain dedicated and bring in the best results while improving overall productivity.

  • Enhances inclusiveness

Welcoming and open-minded collaborations develop inclusivity among members. By increasing psychological safety at work, employees become more responsible, which further contributes to the company's success. It develops a sense of belonging and helps members realize their roles matter within their team. It also creates a personal stake in the well-being of the company and its employees.

  • Promotes sustainability

In a psychologically safe work environment, the well-being and growth of members are of prime importance. They’re not burdened with responsibilities that stress their bandwidth and are allowed to take breaks if feeling overwhelmed. In such a work culture, the employee retention rate remains high, which will save time and cost involved in hiring processes down the line. The trust and harmony among employees and team leaders is the key to building a sustainable business.

  • Reduces conflicts

Employees who feel psychologically safe within a company embrace the viewpoints of other team members. They adopt a solution-oriented mindset that helps them reach a resolution faster. They conduct civil discourse and share differing opinions respectfully to find the common ground. This reduces conflicts and enhances creative disagreements that benefit the company in the long run.

Tips to Boost the Psychological Safety at Workplace

To cultivate psychological safety at the workplace, you should empower your team to perform at its best. A large part of this lies in being considerate of their mental and emotional well-being, and providing support to help them make improvements when needed.Here are a few tips to maintain the psychological safety of your team:

  • Build self-awareness

A team’s culture largely depends on the attitude of the leader, and that requires you to be aware of your impact on a daily basis. If you subconsciously exhibit biased or unfair behavior towards employees, they’ll mimic the same - leading to unnecessary conflicts. Leaders need to regulate their emotions, thoughts, and actions to create a positive work environment.Your behavior towards the employees must be welcoming and empathetic. Building a psychologically safe workplace for your employees becomes easier when you’re aware of your emotional triggers and are in control of your responses.

  • Practice civil discourse

Building a supportive and positive work culture doesn’t mean avoiding disagreements. Instead, it’s about conducting an open discussion and embracing the differing viewpoints of the team.  Civil discourse  is the best method to do so. It allows the members to express their conflicting viewpoints respectfully to find a mutually benefitting conclusion.

  • Express genuine concerns toward team members

Show interest in your employees’ emotional well-being. When leaders show concern, their people feel valued on a personal level. This enhances their sense of comfort with the leader and fosters a healthy discussion to resolve work challenges. As a team leader, when you care for your teammates and empathize with them, they feel psychologically safe.

  • Encourage members to express themselves, keeping their comfort in mind

Every team member has a different comfort level than others. It’s not easy for everyone to share their honest opinions in a team meeting. Some people prefer taking time before reaching a conclusion. Others might share via email or by leaving detailed feedback. Taking those unique perceptions into consideration is important for you as a leader. Provide your team members with multiple means of expressing themselves so they can better convey their grievances.

  • Listen and engage with employees actively

Active listening is important to create psychological safety at work. When you listen to understand, you provide better guidance. This enhances the engagement rate among employees. They show more interest and offer better assistance to each other which enhances their connection, collaboration, and comfort level within the team.

  • Practice transparency between your words and actions

Employees in a company always look up to their team leaders. They trust their words and expect honesty in return. To keep the workspace psychologically safe, you have to maintain this trust by being transparent in your actions. Be mindful while setting goals and commit to what you say. This allows people around you to do the same while working together for a common goal.

  • Normalize taking risks and accepting mistakes

When you work in a creative team, taking risks is inevitable. Not all ideas are helpful, but trial and error is a part of the growth. When leaders don’t hesitate to share their failures or mistakes as learning opportunities, it empowers employees. They feel the importance of risk-taking to either succeed or learn. This shows they belong to a team where mistakes are acceptable as far as they intend to bring value to the team.

  • Appreciate new ideas as a valuable contribution

Express gratitude to employees for sharing their ideas and perceptions. It’s not necessary to act upon every presented idea, but appreciating the team’s efforts creates a welcoming space. Most importantly, it helps people open up and participate in brainstorming sessions. This develops the team’s spirit and motivates them to resolve any problems the team may run into.

What Psychological Safety Looks Like in Remote Work

Establishing psychological safety in remote work can be challenging. Building trust or a sense of belonging in the team seems difficult when you’re virtually connected, but the work-from-home option has become the new normal and is here to stay. Finding effective ways to provide psychological safety in the remote workplace is imperative for leaders. Here are some common challenges remote work poses in establishing psychological safety and what you can do to overcome them:

  • Lack of connectivity among members

The remote work culture and geographical differences make it difficult for team members to develop deep bonds. A lack of personal connection can prevent colleagues from sharing ideas and trusting each other. This also develops isolation among employees and affects the team’s overall productivity.To resolve this connectivity issue, schedule one-on-one meetings with your employees to understand their comfort level. Encourage members to show up in video conferences and ask a few non-work-related questions that address their well-being.

  • Enhanced distraction

In the virtual work environment, there’s a wide scope of distractions. Since teammates depend on online communication channels, they get bombarded with notifications throughout the day which can make it difficult to concentrate. It disrupts employees' focus and affects their efficiency.As a leader, you should define a single communication channel where all employees can interact with each other. Train them to leverage the channel effectively without compromising their focus on work.

  • Inability to seek help

When people work in-office, it’s easy to ask for help from colleagues because they’re approachable. But in a remote work environment, seeking help gets challenging with network issues, unreceived calls, lack of empathy among members, etc. An effective solution is to conduct stand-up meetings via chats when all members share their updates, discuss their challenges, and ask for help.

Final words

Creating a psychologically safe, supportive environment is key to ensuring your employees remain engaged, creative, and happy with their work environment. When employees feel psychologically safe, they bring innovative ideas that can contribute to company growth in the long run. Building psychological safety requires consistent work, but it’s worth the effort. Candor, speed, and creativity are becoming increasingly important competitive advantages for managers and their teams, especially in this economic climate. Psychological safety creates a win-win situation for all the stakeholders of the company and pushes the team towards growth and prosperity.

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