- Mar 17, 2023
4 min read
Psychological Safety: Your Organization’s Priority this 2023 and Beyond
The modern workplace has made workplace psychological safety a complex mission for leaders today. Yet, a successful organization is one where people can voice their thoughts and concerns without the fear of being shut down.
But how do we establish trust and synergy when employees are distributed across our virtual and in-person spaces? And why is it so important to prioritize psychological safety now more than ever? Let’s find out.
Four Stages of Psychological Safety
Psychological safety refers to being able to share your thoughts, opinions, and ideas freely without fear of being punished or shamed. When a team is built upon a climate of respect, members feel safe collaborating and taking risks. Only then they can drive innovation more effectively.
According to Dr. Timothy Clark, author of the book “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety”, this concept begins with the sense of belonging. And therefore, employees go through four stages before they can feel complete psychological safety within their teams.
Stage 1: Inclusion Safety
In stage one, you feel accepted for who you are. You feel safe embracing your unique traits and personality. This stage satisfies the basic human need to connect and belong.
Stage 2: Learner Safety
In stage two, you feel safe to ask questions, voice opinions, and receive feedback. This stage satisfies the need to learn and grow.
Stage 3: Contributor Safety
In stage three, you feel safe to use your skills and strengths to contribute meaningfully. This stage satisfies the need to make a difference.
Stage 4: Challenger Safety
In stage four, you feel safe to speak up when you think there’s an opportunity to change or improve. This stage satisfies the need to make things better, even if it means challenging the status quo.
The Importance of Psychological Safety at the Workplace
Psychological safety at work is not a “nice to have”. As our teams become increasingly distributed in this turbulent business climate, nurturing a sense of trust and safety is crucial. Here’s how psychological safety impacts your people and ultimately your bottom line:
Research published in the International Journal of Innovation Management found that psychological safety within teams is an essential catalyst for organizational innovation (1). People need to feel safe to speak up, ask questions, and share concerns. This creates a more diverse set of ideas and perspectives, which in turn leads to more innovative and effective solutions
When people feel safe to bring their whole, authentic selves to work, they’re more likely to stay motivated, perform better, and feel engaged at work (2). They also enjoy their work more and form stronger connections with colleagues. Organizations can even benefit from lower turnover rates due to improved employee morale.
Employees are more likely to communicate honestly with their colleagues and managers if they know they won’t be punished for it (3). As a result, we foster a more transparent work climate that facilitates decision-making, minimizes conflict, and boosts efficiency.
How Can Leaders Promote Psychological Safety at Work
The levels of psychological safety in your workplace represent your organization’s climate, culture, and performance. That’s why leaders, from CEOs down to line managers in direct contact with staff, need to proactively create an environment that emphasizes safety and respect. Here’s how:
Set the stage
As a leader, it’s essential that you model the behaviors you want to see. Practice inclusive leadership practices and educate your team about the importance of a safe work environment. Don’t be afraid of being vulnerable about your own challenges as you help your team recognize theirs. The whole point is to create a non-judgmental space where people can share ownership of both personal and organizational challenges.
Instead of punishing people for making mistakes, teach people to learn from failure and bounce back from disappointment. It’s fine to provide constructive feedback, but remember to come from a supportive place as well. Doing so encourages reasonable risk-taking which is crucial for innovation and breakthroughs. Don’t forget to recognize and reward open communication and risk-taking too!
Promote constructive conflict
Conflict is inevitable. But we can guide our teams to engage in productive dialogues that help us resolve, rather than exacerbate problems. Establish norms for how your teams can communicate when things aren’t working out. You may conduct regular team meetings where people can safely express all their concerns, or set up an online forum for people to engage in constructive debate. Ultimately, it’s about regularly soliciting input from people to create a culture where people feel comfortable speaking up.
Keep track and educate
Psychological safety takes time to build, but only moments to destroy. Leaders need to be vigilant and hold their teams accountable for behaviors that don’t make others feel safe. This can be tricky and it’s not about policing people for every seemingly disrespectful remark. Rather it's about steering conversations toward a direction of respect and inclusivity.
For organizations to succeed today, we need environments where everyone feels like they’re on the same team, regardless of how distributed their workplace is. And if we want our teams to feel safe enough to thrive together in the future of work, we need psychologically safe workplaces where everyone can show up fully. Creating a culture of psychological safety is no overnight business, but it’s definitely a vital pursuit!
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How Psychological Safety Enables Innovation: The Effects on Potential and Realised Absorptive Capacity
Innovation is not enough: climates for initiative and psychological safety, process innovations, and firm performance - Baer - 2003 - Journal of Organizational Behavior - Wiley Online Library
Learning from Mistakes is Easier Said Than Done: Group and Organizational Influences on the Detection and Correction of Human Error - Amy C. Edmondson, 1996