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Psychological Safety and Workplace Culture - happy employees feeling safe and supported

Psychological Safety and Workplace Culture

Collaboration and innovation are essential skills for the future success of business. However, they don’t exist in environments where employees hold back for fear of the consequences. In this article, we explore what psychological safety is and why it is essential for a successful workplace culture.

What is Psychological Safety at Work?

Your organisation may have a Health & Safety Policy and be compliant with the Equality Act, but is it a psychologically safe place to work?

Psychological safety relates to the perception of consequences if you take a risk. That risk could be questioning a statement, challenging an idea or putting forward a suggestion. Equally, it could be admitting that something hasn’t worked or you are struggling with a project.

Is it an ideal scenario if your employees rarely approach you with a problem? Surely, this means that you have a competent team who are great at using initiative and problem-solving. However, it could be the case that they are covering up errors and issues. The reason for this could be fear of an unpleasant situation; being reprimanded or looking foolish in front of colleagues. Alternatively, admitting problems could risk not receiving bonuses and opportunities that are based on successful outcomes.

Equally, it might feel great when everyone agrees with your latest idea, but is this what they really think? Does a compliant nod suggest a flawless plan or do people not feel confident to point out a concern that is on their mind? Consider how you present the information and direct the response. For example,Is everyone in agreement? leaves little room for someone to speak up.

The Fearless Organisation

A psychologically safe work culture is built on trust and respect. Remember that you recruited your employees because of their diverse skills, knowledge and experience. Therefore, your workplace should be filled with different thought processes, opinions and insights. This pool of perspectives and talent is where your strength lies, but only if people feel able to be themselves and express themselves without fear.

In research on psychological safety, Amy Edmonson identifies the issues with being afraid to speak up. For a start, she notes that neuroscience research identifies that a fearful workplace diverts resources away from our ability to remember and process new information. This reduces our ability to analyse, think creatively and problem-solve. So, without psychological safety, your employees are less productive.

Secondly, the fear of sharing concerns or trying new things hinders development and innovation. When issues aren’t flagged up, the organisation is at risk of escalating problems. And, if everyone sticks to the tried and tested, there is little chance of discovering something new.

In The Fearless Organisation* Amy Edmonson highlights the importance of:

  • Setting the Stage – having a workplace culture that is inclusive, open and accepting
  • Inviting Engagement – presenting information in ways that encourage discussion and enable people to openly share thoughts
  • Responding appreciatively – thank individuals for raising questions, identifying gaps or suggesting alternative options

Her research suggests that success is dependent on a workplace culture where everyone is valued and can contribute without reprimand or judgment.

Does your Workplace provide Psychological Safety?

Let’s consider your workplace based on Amy Edmunson’s three priorities.

Firstly, does your recruitment process encourage diversity? If so, the team will bring a rich variety of thoughts and opinions to the table. With this in mind, did you know that I’ve recently launched Neurodiversity in the Workplace training? This builds awareness of the skills that neurodiverse individuals offer and the reasonable adjustments that can aid recruitment, integration and retention.

Secondly, are employees’ views actively sought and valued? It is all about making the most of your team’s wealth of skills and perspectives. Some people need time to consider and process information, which means that the best decisions can’t always be made on the spot. Equally, some employees will be comfortable speaking up in a group, whilst others may only raise a point if they are asked on a 1;1 basis. Are there opportunities for everyone to contribute in their own way?

Thirdly, if someone raises questions are they viewed as difficult and disruptive or do you thank them for their question? Do you recognise that you need to provide further information for them to do a great job? Equally, are radical ideas dismissed or are employees empowered to give them a try? A strong manager will see that an employee challenging an idea, or trying and failing offers an opportunity to discuss further and improve the plan.

Leadership for Business Success

Being a leader isn’t about knowing it all and having all the answers. It is about empowering and motivating employees, so you can draw on their skills and strengths. Workplace diversity is an asset and an effective workplace culture ensures everyone feels included and valued.

Amy Edmonson’s three steps create a true sense of belonging. This enables both individual and organisational learning and development, motivation and retention. Therefore, the outcome of a psychologically safe workplace is a higher chance of business success.

My new course on Trust and Psychological Safety offers an ideal opportunity for leaders to explore the subject in relation to their workplace and communication style.

Contact me to find out more and discuss your requirements at info@suegarner.co.uk or 07775 624724.

* https://www.lean.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/pl_Psychological_Safety.pdf

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