17th Aug 2023
3 Min Read

Psychological safety – nice to have or a necessity?

Jo Stark
Jo Stark
People & Change

Is psychological safety just another buzzword in the world of work? Or can it make the difference between a business merely surviving or thriving?

Most people want to step into the world of work and feel like they can make a difference. That sense of purpose is what gets many out of bed in the morning. But – whatever makes you avoid the snooze button on the alarm clock – everybody wants to be treated fairly and respectfully at work.

According to the Harvard Business Review, high levels of belonging is linked to a whopping 56 per cent increase in job performance and a 50 per cent drop in turnover risk. That sense of belonging boosts productivity, retention and helps people feel they can contribute meaningfully at work.

But how does a sense of psychological safety make for a thriving workplace where everyone can feel that sense of belonging be their authentic selves?

What do the experts say?

Team psychological safety is a shared belief held by those within a group; an understanding that it’s okay to take risks, to express ideas and concerns and to admit mistakes – all without fear of negative consequences.

But if we feel a strong stress response at work – be it through difficult work, our own sense of anxiety or any other external factor – it becomes harder to put team psychological safety into practice. So how can you foster psychological safety in the workplace?

In the book, ‘Even Better If: Building better businesses, better leaders and better selves’, Rachel Thornton, Lindsay Kohler and Charlie Sampson outline the four benefits psychologically safe workplaces profit from:

  • You’re more likely to spot the cracks: your people will notice when something’s not right and feel they can raise issues without fear of repercussions
  • It encourages learning and growing: workers in inclusive teams are more likely to receive regular career development. And if you’re motivated, you’re more likely to help someone else
  • It enables better decision-making: when teams work together collaboratively, they often make better decisions and form better outcomes
  • People are more likely to take risks: especially if they have the company’s best interests at heart and feel confident that they’re making decisions for the right reasons.

The result? If your team feel safe, you’ll see a boost in innovation, problem-solving and creativity.

Though it takes time to embed psychological safety within a team, the consequences of not doing so can be far worse – potentially causing anxiety and burnout among your people. That can make an even greater negative impact on your business in the long term.

Putting it into practice

We know building that sense of safety takes time. So, what can you do right now to get the ball rolling?

  • Show what healthy conflict looks like: it’s not about being nice. It’s about feeling like you can have difficult conversations when required – and that these will be productive and without judgement. Manage expectations before the conversations are had by setting a clear agenda, and always make sure that there is time for feedback.
  • Create a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and harassment: be clear and specific when it comes to unacceptable language to ensure that people are confident in calling out poor behaviour. And when the policies are clear, it will empower your leaders to act on reports and establish a culture in which people feel listened to.
  • Help managers and leaders to show up authentically: create a space where it’s okay for leaders to speak up if they need assistance with a task or don’t know everything about everything. You don’t need to have all the answers. It shows your team that you’re also human and makes you more approachable.
  • Acknowledge failure: it’s always important to highlight what went well, but a lot can be learned from what didn’t. Understanding why something failed is fundamental to being successful in the future. But these conversations need to feel safe and be held in a forum where everyone is heard and can talk truthfully.

Remember, psychological safety isn’t just about empowering individuals – it’s the foundation of any high-performing team.

Is your workplace psychologically safe?

Ready to make sure that you have the environment where it’s safe for people to be, do, and feel their best?

A good place to start in boosting psychological safety is first understanding where you're currently at.

How can we do this?

PRiME measures the key metrics of wellbeing in your workplace, such as motivation, readiness, emotional connection and psychological safety, giving you meaningful data and actionable recommendations to help drive individual effectiveness and organisational performance.

Find out more about PRiME

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