To reach its potential, a corporation must foster an environment where every employee feels their input is valued. While each company has that desire, few attain it and therefore do not realize their potential. However, changing the culture is possible. Creating a psychologically safe workplace requires executives to self-evaluate, become more empathetic, and acknowledge their mistakes.
Psychological safety is “the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” Workplace equality is needed to promote such feelings. Yet because of their decision-making abilities, the balance of power clearly belongs to managers. This fact hinders the free exchange of ideas, concerns, and questions — far more often than most managers and organizations realize. The fallout is that ideas are not voiced, even though they may be quite helpful, and the company underperforms.
To address the problem, an enterprise must recalibrate its corporate culture, a process that is neither easy nor natural. Here are a few steps to start the process.
Measure Psychological Safety
Businesses need metrics to determine how wide the gap is between what employees want to say and what they will say. One way to measure an organization’s psychological safety is through an employee survey. The questionnaire asks if employees feel that they can share their opinions openly, take risks, and make mistakes. To get a complete picture of how the organization functions, a firm needs to probe itself on multiple levels: individuals’ ability to express vulnerability, understand how teams work, and recognize the organization’s standard way of operating.
Promote Management Self-Awareness
Creating psychological safety in the workplace starts by building self-awareness among top executives about their management styles. Many executives want to be open and honest, but business circumstances, personalities, and work habits create barriers. They need to uncover biases, which may be unconscious, that impact employees’ willingness to share their ideas. Executives must take the lead, acknowledge their faults, and be willing to alter them. One aid is education and training so they know how to interact with others in ways that invite open discussion.
The traditional work/personal lifeline has been blurring, especially since the pandemic. No longer is the popular thinking that individuals must leave their personal feelings and challenges at home and not bring them into the office. Humans do not have the ability to compartmentalize at that level. They need to feel welcome in the workplace as well as in their homes.
Checking in with employees on a regular basis demonstrates concern and interest in them as people, something that employees desire and expect more nowadays than in the past. This simple action helps team members feel more comfortable speaking up because they know the manager appreciates their whole selves – not just their work.
Integrate Psychological Safety into Company Fiber
Developing a psychologically safe workplace has to be ingrained in the company’s DNA. The groundwork begins when onboarding new team members: Onboarding introduces new members to company processes and sets work expectations. Making it easy for employees to speak about concerns right at the start of their careers with the firm creates an environment where everyone feels safe.
Provide Multiple Ways for Employees to Voice Opinions
While some employees may be comfortable sharing their thoughts immediately in a meeting, others need time to think through their responses and prefer to put them in writing. Therefore, firms must develop multiple communication channels, such as email; online collaboration tools, like Slack or Microsoft Teams; in-person; or virtual one-on-one discussions.
Own Up to Mistakes
Managers set the example, and employees follow. Failure can be frightening, and even leaders need the courage to acknowledge their mistakes and recognize that missteps offer a path to learning and growth. They must talk openly about their travails and outline what they learned from their mistakes. Holding a sharing session where employees share what they’ve done that did not work out as expected and what they learned from those experiences changes the company narrative. By doing so, team members recognize that they will not be punished for mistakes and become more comfortable speaking up and taking risks.
Why Encourage Psychological Safety?
Psychological safety in the workplace is good business and provides many significant benefits.
Gain More Input
Not everyone feels comfortable speaking in groups. People of color significantly often feel intimidated discussing their experiences. In fact, 38% of Black professionals feel that it is never acceptable for them to talk publicly about instances of bias.
Psychological safety helps team members speak up. The more voices heard, the more options for addressing a limitation, and the more likely a company will solve a problem. In addition, high psychological safety encourages team members to take greater risks, which sparks innovation.
Keeping a current employee is much less expensive and more efficient than hiring a new one. When employees feel safe at work, they are more likely to voice concerns and access support, so minor problems do not become major ones. In essence, workplace psychological
safety reduces stress and mitigates burnout.
Since the pandemic, employees who feel uncomfortable at work have been walking out the door in growing numbers, and more may follow. Only three in 10 US workers strongly agree that their opinions count at work. Improving that ratio to six in 10 reduces turnover by 27%.
Communication is the cornerstone of innovation, but the current workplace can be intimidating. When employees start their day uneasy, they become defensive and unwilling to share their thoughts. Creating a psychologically safe environment enables employees to overcome anxiety about sharing their thoughts. As more voices are heard, everyone in the organization benefits.