Free expression has not always been welcomed in the workplace. Traditional, highly structured corporate hierarchies instilled fear of repercussions, and in the absence of open reassurance, workers were inclined to choose the safety of silence.
Now, as business leaders make concerted and ongoing efforts to instill psychological safety, employees are increasingly inclined to share their thoughts, ideas, and honest feedback with confidence. Psychological safety is essential to business growth and innovation — and an inclusive company culture.
What can you do to enhance psychological safety and encourage more open communication in your workplace?
Defining psychological safety
Experts identify four stages of psychological safety.
- Inclusion safety. A sense of belonging and feeling connected and appreciated for one’s unique characteristics and workplace contributions.
- Learner safety. Employees feel comfortable asking questions, giving feedback, and making mistakes as they learn new processes and take on new projects.
- Contributor safety. Workers who want or need to make a difference feel free to use their abilities, skills, and judgement to produce meaningful work.
- Challenger safety. Employees feel encouraged to speak up, challenge ideas and processes, and contribute input when they feel change is necessary.
Why is psychological safety important?
The benefits of psychological safety extend to both workers and their employers. Employees who feel psychologically safe at work know they can act or speak up without fear of repercussion. This is especially vital in safety-critical environments, such as healthcare and manufacturing. When everyone feels free to contribute, employees collaborate, share ideas, and give valuable feedback. And workplace culture experiences more creativity and innovation, more cohesive group dynamics, and a positive growth mindset.
Psychological safety increases reliability and performance as workers feel empowered to learn. They’re not afraid of making career-ending mistakes as they develop their skills or innovate processes. When a company is a psychologically safe place to work, retention rises, turnover falls, and recruiting efforts are more successful. Employees feel certain and secure at work and their sense of well-being affects their health and productivity. Psychological security also fosters inclusion, as diverse team members flourish regardless of ethnicity, background, gender, disability, or race.
Improving psychological safety in the workplace
Building a company culture of psychological safety takes time and effort, especially when businesses face unprecedented, and often overwhelming, change. But intentional planning and sincere implementation go a long way toward creating a safer workplace. Consider these steps to improve psychological safety:
- Prioritize psychological safety from the top down. Managers and leaders must recognize the importance of psychological safety and be both willing and able to apply new ideas and processes. Leadership can encourage this by modeling a willingness to speak up, admit mistakes, and demonstrate growth. Leaders can also take open responsibility for expressing compassion and empathy for their employees.
- Accept input from everyone. Brainstorming is not confined to the boardroom. All your employees should feel their voice matters to your company. Evaluate your feedback processes: Do your employees know how to report safety concerns or who to approach with ideas for innovating or improving production? Keep communication flowing at all levels of your organization.
- Encourage reasonable risk. View and promote the idea that mistakes are part of the learning process. Innovation can’t happen without ideas, input, creative thinking, and willingness to experiment. Accept mistakes as a natural part of innovation and process refinement.
- Embrace new ideas. Workers are more willing to contribute in workplaces that consider new ideas and creativity the norm. In a supportive work culture, no one is ridiculed or ignored when they offer their thoughts, and everyone understands that innovation is a result of thinking outside the box.
- Promote productive debate and conflict resolution. When professional conflict arises, resist the urge to shut it down immediately. Avoid approaching conflict as a battle of winners and losers. Instead, keep the focus on productivity, the company’s mission, and what can be learned from the situation.
- Foster inclusion and diversity. Inclusion is an essential component of psychological safety. Workers who feel unsafe or excluded are less likely to contribute their input. In safe workplaces, diverse teams benefit from diverse perspectives.
Psychological safety is key to building a more open and innovative workplace. Learn more at terrastaffinggroup.com.