The Importance of Psychological Safety in the Workplace by Violet Dhu

“Psychological safety isn’t about being nice. It’s about giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes, and learning from each other. This kind of organizational culture is increasingly important in the modern economy.” 

– Amy Edmondson

According to a study on team performance by Google, the highest-performing teams all have a psychologically safe environment. Other studies show that a psychologically safe environment helps people develop creativity, open-mindedness, resilience, motivation, and persistence. 

What is psychological safety?

Dr. Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, coined the term Psychological Safety, referring to “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Generally, it means that every member of the team is comfortable being vulnerable in front of other members of the team. 

In simple terms, psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. It promotes positive emotions which help drive increased productivity and ensure success. 

According to many researchers, people who work in a psychologically safe environment develop the best version of themselves and become fully engaged with their tasks and responsibilities. They feel safe to grow and learn and share ideas at work.

Why is psychological safety important?

In my work teaching people how to handle difficult conversations, how to give and receive feedback, how to say no, and how to communicate assertively, psychological safety underpins the ability to have these tough conversations. If you don’t feel safe, you will avoid the difficult conversation. If you don’t feel safe, you will say yes to things you should have said no to. And if you don’t feel safe, you will not speak up and you will not give feedback.

According to 89% of adults from a Pew Research survey, it is critical for today’s business leaders to create safe and respectful workplaces. People need to feel safe before they make a stand or speak up about something they disagree with. Without psychological safety, creativity and individuality are gradually lost. There are fewer conflict and difficult conversations and less honest feedback conversations, and there is also less room for growth, innovation and development.

What is the cost of not having a psychologically safe workplace?

A work environment that is not psychologically safe can impact each team member, the entire team, the clients, and the organisation.

  • Cost to the individual 

If a team member does not feel psychologically safe in his or her work environment, he or she will be afraid, will not contribute, will hold back, and will not speak up. They will rather keep their ideas to their selves than risk getting humiliated or made fun of.

  • Cost to the team

If one of the team members keeps to themselves, the entire team fails to establish a strong working relationship and collaboration and teamwork are gradually lost. The teams’ unification and culture will be weak and will lead to having more difficult conversations, conflicts, and disagreements.

  • Cost to the client

The quality of work is affected, and clients receive poor customer service when the team or individual feels unsafe. 

  • Cost to the organisation

As more clients get poor customer service, the organisation losses revenue. Without a strong team working together in a culture of trust, the company will lose opportunities for new ideas, innovation and creativity which are what they need to continue to be able to develop and compete in their industry.

Leaders and each individual member of the team are accountable in creating a psychologically safe environment at work. When your organisation embraces psychological safety, it benefits not only the organisation but also everyone running and managing it as well as your clients who will receive high quality service.

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