How a culture of psychological safety can boost performance
A key element of the job of business leaders is building an environment in which people across teams can honestly and openly ask questions and bring ideas to the table. Doing this requires them to make psychological safety a priority.
When employees feel psychologically safe, they are best able to contribute at work, creating benefits for individual employees, high-performing teams and successful organisations. Indeed, a culture of psychological safety is the number 1 predictor of achievement and productivity among top-performing teams, above skills or talent.
Why a culture of psychological safety matters
Psychological safety means that everyone in a team feels they can be authentic, vulnerable and honest without fear of negative consequences. It enables people to take risks and build new skills without worrying about embarrassment or losing status when their courage means that mistakes are inevitably made on the path to success. Psychological safety gives employees the security they need to bring their best selves to work and to grow in their roles.
What happens when a workplace isn’t psychologically safe?
In a psychologically unsafe workplace, however, individuals are less likely to contribute, less likely to support each other and less likely to face challenges together. People are also much more likely to leave a business. Ultimately, working in an emotionally unsafe environment can lead to physical and mental health problems, burnout, absenteeism, low productivity and people quitting.
To make matters worse, without a baseline level of psychological safety to encourage vulnerability and authenticity, people are also less likely to seek support or assistance. Summed-up across an organisation, a lack of psychological safety increases risk and decreases performance.
Creating psychological safety begins with commitment, communication and action. Here are four simple strategies to start with:
1. Communicate clearly and often
Most people feel safer and more capable when they know what’s happening. It’s a leader’s job to keep the team in the loop by regularly updating them on projects, objectives and expectations. People who aren’t clear on goals and where their contributions fit will lack the agency and motivation they need to contribute to your shared success.
2. Make space for employee feedback
If you’re not getting regular feedback, it may be because you haven’t asked for it or created simple ways for team members to provide it. To make giving feedback more comfortable to a wider range of your workforce, consider rolling out anonymous channels for employees to share their opinions and concerns. It’s far better to have these channels in-house, rather than on social media (such as Glassdoor reviews). Be sure to give credit and thanks when people share their insights. This reinforces the idea that feedback is welcome and valued.
3. Don’t react in the heat of the moment
It’s rarely critical to respond right away. Before taking action or responding, make time to consider the people in your organisation and the collective effort that sits behind business results.
You should always consider asking for a trusted second opinion on critical feedback before it’s shared, to ensure maximum sensitivity and consideration for everyone involved. This is integral to creating psychological safety — making it less painful to try something and have it not work out as planned.
After all, stepping outside your comfort zone means making mistakes, and learning from them.
4. Be open about your mistakes
It can also be beneficial to share examples of when you, as a leader, have got things wrong – we’re all human, after all. By openly addressing mistakes and how you learned from them, you allow others on the team to do the same.
A psychologically safe work environment allows people to bring their most collaborative and creative selves to work and fully invest in an organisation. Considering the power of unlocking human potential, it’s no wonder that a work environment built on psychological safety leads to happier, more productive teams and a more successful business.
To find out more about how to build psychological safety by supporting mental health at work, download The business case: Mental health and the employee experience.
In partnership with Koa Health
At Koa Health, we believe digital mental health solutions are the answer to mental health issues.