If you’ve heard the term “psychological safety” a lot lately, you’re in good company. As the world spins in a state of uncertainty, stress, and pressure (think hybrid work, political polarization, multiple Covid variants), we’ve seen a major shift to humanizing the workplace. A psychologically safe workplace makes employees feel comfortable enough to be themselves, speak up, and ask questions without fearing rejection or humiliation.
A psychologically safe workplace culture is now widely understood to be a must-have. According to data from the PEW Research Center, 89% of employees say that psychological safety is essential and that business leaders are responsible for creating it. Beyond positively impacting the individuals on a team, a psychologically safe workplace benefits the whole organization. It has the power to enhance employee engagement, improve well-being, reduce turnover rates, and boost team performance.
Let’s explore some ways to create psychological safety on your team:
1. Create space for idea sharing
If you want people to bring their most creative and innovative ideas forward, they must feel comfortable openly contributing to conversations. This means encouraging brainstorming sessions and suspending any forms of judgment during them. While some ideas might require further development and others might not go beyond the brainstorming process, it’s important to acknowledge every contribution. Expressing appreciation when individuals share their insights will send the message that all thoughts are welcome – including big-picture ones and those that aren’t completely formed.
Keep in mind that not everyone loves a huge, company-wide brainstorming session, though. The introverts on your team might prefer bouncing ideas off one individual coworker or adding to a conversation through online collaboration tools, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. Consider using multiple channels for gathering and sharing ideas such as surveys, suggestion boxes, or informal lunches. However your team decides to implement idea sharing, encourage individuals to engage in open dialogue as a regular practice.
2. Lean into productive conflict and difficult conversations
When promoting open and honest sharing of opinions, you’ll likely encounter differing viewpoints since every person on the team brings their own unique experiences and perspectives to work. This creates diversity of thought which helps us think outside the box and push boundaries. While hearing team members share opposing ideas might feel unsettling initially, remember that disagreements are natural and should be normalized (and embraced!) if they’re dealt with in a healthy way. They provide an opportunity to engage in productive conflict that surfaces diverse viewpoints respectfully.
Carving out space to have difficult conversations can be unnatural at first, but, with the right guidance, they allow for new learning and promote deeper connections. Tough conversations come in all shapes and sizes, but giving constructive feedback tends to sit high up on the list of “most daunting conversations to have at work.”
Set yourself up to handle any challenging discussion by:
• Preparing to show up calmly.
• Actively listening.
• Stating your intentions.
• Asking open-ended questions.
• Working together to come up with a solution or compromise.
• Expressing appreciation for the willingness to engage in this dialogue.
These techniques can help employees feel less uneasy about having open and honest conversations, foster constructive disagreement, and make giving and receiving feedback less threatening.
3. Embrace failure as an opportunity for growth
When you remember a workplace mistake, what do you initially feel? If the answer is regret or embarrassment, you’re in good company. Mistakes can even make us feel humiliated and ashamed – like we let our team down – or fearful of how our supervisor might react. But failure is a natural part of business (and life) so we must start treating it as such. Avoid shaming people, especially publicly, for making mistakes. After all, the most successful organizations use failure as teachable moments for everyone. Shift the focus from blame to support: Could employees benefit from a specific training to improve skills? Might you help someone find a mentor? Or perhaps some teambuilding discussions are in order.
Individuals feel safe taking risks when they don’t fear any backlash if an outcome doesn’t go as planned. Support your team in taking calculated risks by fostering experimentation and making it known that failure is often the strongest foundation for learning. Building a culture that embraces failure opens the door for greater risk-taking and innovation. And in today’s competitive work landscape, the next great idea wins!
4. Demonstrate accountability in all situations
How easy is it for people within your organization to accept responsibility when things go awry? If individuals default to blaming others and making excuses, they might feel nervous owning up to their mistakes. Maybe they’ve been harshly reprimanded in the past or haven’t witnessed others take personal responsibility. A culture of accountability begins at the top of the organization with leadership. Managers, too, should lead by example – taking ownership of challenges when they arise, encouraging experimentation, responding with compassion when mistakes are made, and establishing clarity around responsibilities.
Accountability doesn’t only apply to mistakes, though. Encourage individuals to take ownership of the role they play in successes. Taking credit for achievement helps employees feel connected to their work and their team. Fostering a culture of accountability throughout your organization will increase trust, boost engagement, and create a higher functioning workplace.
5. Express appreciation and acknowledge accomplishments
To make your team feel valued, make a habit of sharing positive feedback and celebrating achievements. When people feel appreciated and receive recognition regularly, they’re four times as likely to be engaged at work and five times as likely to feel connected to their workplace. Recognition from the top-down is crucial to driving engagement and job satisfaction but don’t forget to acknowledge and thank your peers. Lateral recognition promotes a more positive and collaborative work environment, too.
Celebrating accomplishments doesn’t always require a grand gesture (but we don’t doubt that your employees would appreciate a small gift or bonus from time to time.) Even a seemingly small “thank you” message goes a long way. You might also consider acknowledging hard work during meetings, on virtual message boards, in a newsletter, or even on LinkedIn. However you express your gratitude, remember to do it early and often.
As Thanksgiving approaches, we want to take a moment to share our gratitude for YOU!
To our fabulous clients - thank you for entrusting us with your professional and organizational development needs. We love helping you create positive and productive workplaces!
To our friends and peers – thank you for engaging with us online and in-person. We appreciate your support!
To our entire internal team – thank you for being willing to share strategies, share a laugh, and share the workload. We’re so fortunate to have an amazing team that makes it all happen!