Leadership & Management

How Psychological Safety Matters to Your Team

By Courtney Elder for RallyBright

April 2, 2020

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When we think about going to work, a number of things typically come to mind – the ability to earn a paycheck to support ourselves, the option to spend our time doing something we enjoy, or even the simple way that being around others can enrich our lives. But there’s one key element of work that many people don’t think about: psychological safety.

I don’t mean fearing for your actual well-being while at work, but instead, the idea of creating a safe place, mentally, for you and your colleagues. Let’s dive a bit deeper into this concept and explore just how psychological safety at work impacts us all.

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Understanding Psychological Safety

Different from job security or questioning if you’re actually happy at your job, psychological safety at work tackles a completely different element of the work experience. Essentially, the idea refers to the ability to feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking questions and proposing different ways of solving problems. Psychological safety at your workplace means that you and your colleagues feel a certain level of comfort when it comes to being vulnerable.

Rather than sitting back and simply going along with every idea as it’s presented, those who feel psychological safety at work might be inclined to challenge the status quo and explore new ways to improve productivity. Or they may develop marketing ideas that are bold and compelling, or contribute other innovative thinking.

How It Matters

There’s a two-fold way in which psychological safety matters to a company of any size, in any industry. Consider psychological safety from an employee’s point of view. Clearly it can contribute to overall job satisfaction and employee retention.

No one wants to feel embarrassed for sharing an unusual idea or reprimanded for trying to go against the grain. Yet when there’s an environment of psychological safety in the workplace, employees naturally feel valued and see themselves as an integral part of the team. They’re more likely to stay at a company where they feel like they’re making a difference.

Naturally, employers who can hold onto their top talent will ultimately benefit here. There’s another hidden positive when it comes to nurturing an environment where it’s safe to be vulnerable. Consider this: if your employees are willing to think outside of the box and speak up if a current plan of action doesn’t seem sound, won’t you be in a better position for success?

Fostering Psychological Safety

Sometimes employers think that they’ve created a safe space for their team, but as a manager you won’t always know unless employees feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable. How can you create psychological safety? Consider these ideas:

  • Stay open-minded as much as possible: Create space for new ideas to develop and encourage team members to provide honest feedback. Rather than casting a negative light on it, frame this feedback process as a way to learn and grow.
  • Engage in active listening: People feel valued when they’re actually being heard. Think about changing what your team meetings might look like. Perhaps you leave all phones at the door or ask some of your more reserved employees to contribute.
  • Create the ultimate in comfort: It can be easy to forget the basics of creating a safe space. Make sure to regularly remind your team to refrain from interrupting and to keep all feedback constructive and positive. The more you reinforce these ideas, the more comfortable and open your employees will be.
  • Lead by example: Demonstrate the above behaviors consistently. Psychological safety at work doesn’t happen overnight. Show your team that you’ve created a safe space for new ideas, and they will trust you.

Take an Analytical Approach

It can be difficult to approach the concept of psychological safety if your team or industry tends to be analytical. Still, it’s worthwhile to understand and acknowledge the very real and measurable impacts of feeling safe. On top of being good for the well-being of your team, it creates a more productive and harmonious workplace. When thinking about how to strengthen and foster the growth of your team, don’t overlook their psychological safety!

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