Psychological safety is emerging as a crucial aspect of a successful organization. Effectively employing this concept throughout your organization, understanding it, and accepting it, will help you help your employees succeed.
What is Psychological Safety in Organizations?
Everyone needs to feel safe; feeling safe is one of the foundations of everyone’s hierarchy of needs. This applies to physical and psychological safety, including mental and emotional safety.
When we talk about psychological safety in an organization, we refer to an organization that has fostered an environment of inclusivity and comfort, where people feel free to speak up. The “psychologically safe” part of the workplace is the knowledge that the employees won’t be psychologically attacked or bullied for sharing ideas. Comfort and safety are the beliefs that they will not be subjected to being made to feel bad, upset, or ridiculed when sharing ideas.
When we think of attacks our minds normally go to physical attacks. Still, psychological safety in organizations acknowledges how emotional and mental triggers and attacks from others can affect an organization’s performance and work culture. Moreover, workers can’t effectively blossom, work, or reach their potential if they’re afraid of a combination of attacks like:
- Toxic Bosses
- Punishment of New Ideas
An Example of a Psychologically Unsafe Organization
Amy does marketing for her company. She’s been working for Mark for a little over a year now, and she thinks she’s starting to get an ulcer. This is because she feels everything she says to Mark is liable to make him poke fun at her, laugh at her ideas, and tell her she’s an idiot. As a Result, she stays late to triple-check her work, so she doesn’t have to ask for help or feedback, and she lives in fear of reviews.
A new account is coming into the firm, and they must make a good impression. But, looking over the presentation, Amy noticed that Mark had put some information in incorrectly; there were a few spelling mistakes, and he had the wrong information about the company. Amy stares at it, a sinking feeling in her stomach. She has to tell him but can’t tell him because she’s terrified.
If this feels familiar, it’s probably because it is. Millions of people work in psychologically unsafe environments, so much so that we’ve started to think it’s normal.
Why is Psychological Safety in Organizations Important?
Psychological Safety Reduces Errors
Workers must feel comfortable challenging the world around them to correct critical mistakes, ask for help, and improve processes. In a hostile work environment or with a toxic boss, employees don’t feel safe saying, “Is this the right way to do things?” or “I don’t think that’s right.” They’re more afraid of being yelled at, belittled, and treated poorly than they are of an error occurring. In psychologically safe workplaces, people feel comfortable challenging things because they know they won’t be treated poorly for it.
Psychological Safety Boosts Creativity
Organizations that foster psychological safety are more creative and innovative than other companies. So, to be “creative,” employees must be comfortable trying new things, coming up with potentially bad or failing ideas, and workshopping ideas. Employees feel uncomfortable doing this if a workplace is psychologically unsafe and workplace creativity suffers.
Psychological Safety Increases Belonging
Teamwork, productivity, employee retention, and work-life balance are all improved by a sense of belonging in the workplace. Unfortunately, companies lose thousands of employees every year because of toxic bosses, fear, and anxiety in the workplace. So by creating an environment where people feel free to be themselves and feel accepted, companies encourage a free exchange of information and increase employee retention.
Signs to Watch Out for to See if Your Organization is Psychologically Safe
The media is full of examples of why psychological safety in organizations is so important and examples of toxic bosses. There was even a movie, Horrible Bosses (and a sequel), that highlighted varieties of toxic bosses, that was a hit because people sympathized with having bosses that made their work lives awful.
Organizations in need of a cultural shift toward psychological safety have some signs that you can keep your eyes open for, including:
- Fear and Discomfort
- Employees Don’t Raise Disagreements
- They are Not Comfortable Accepting Mistakes
- They Don’t Seek Feedback
- A Few People Dominate Meetings
- Low Employee Morale
- Information is Not Universally Accessible
Create Psychological Safety
You can create a psychologically safe organization by fostering an environment of acceptance, comfort, and enlightened employees. This will lead to increased productivity, employee retention, and creativity. For more information on how you can foster psychological safety, check out our blog.