Psychological safety is the belief that you won't be punished or humiliated for speaking up, or making mistakes, and is important to have in the workplace. When a team has psychological safety, it encourages, recognizes, and rewards individuals for their contributions and ideas by making individuals feel safe when taking interpersonal risks. When it's not there, individuals may not be open to sharing ideas, contributions and innovating.
When employees feel that the workplace is a safe space to share ideas, it allows unique discussions and different ways of thinking. People feel more comfortable sharing ideas that are unique as there's no level of judgment this gives an increase in creative ideas. A supportive culture allows employees to speak up about their ideas and not feel threatened or judged. Teams with a good support culture allow employees to feel more confident knowing the team has their back.
Psychological safety also allows for an improvement in engagement. This is because people are not concerned about maintaining their status or reputation. Data from Accenture shows that teams with psychological safety have up to 76% more engagement. Lastly, with support from each other, a strong relationship is built and more employees trust each other. Together this has an impact on the company by increasing communication, innovation, and culture while lowering turnover.
Before you make any changes, the first thing you should do is get feedback from employees on the current situation within the company. This will help make changes where it's needed. Getting feedback can be hard if your employees do not feel comfortable or safe. A combination of surveys, team meetings, and one on ones can help get a better understanding of what is needed. Identifying where an organization needs to improve is difficult, but crucial to improve employee psychological safety.
If management has an authoritative leadership style, it is time to change gears. A survey done by McKinsey stated how an authoritative leadership style is detrimental to psychological safety. This type of leadership tends to separate the leader from their team, creating a hostile environment for employees to share ideas. Instead having a consultative and supportive approach is the best fit. This allows employees to feel more connected with their managers while making it easier for them to their opinion on ideas.
Vulnerability is a trait that allows people to feel more comfortable and connected to each other. It relaxes the guard and a genuine connection can be built. Authenticity and vulnerability allow employees to know that mistakes can be made and they won’t be punished. This side can be shown by involving personal life in topics or sharing more that can allow for a natural connection rather than just a professional one.
Goals are meant to be met, when a goal is not met this can have a negative impact on morale. This is why creating stretch goals are important, they are designed to be challenging to reach. However, this will allow employees to be more ambitious and progress toward hitting the goal without feeling bad if they didn't hit it.
When a team member brings an idea forward, it is best to seek clarification. This shows a sense of support and trust building. Shooting it down or highlighting its flaws right away can make it harder for employees to come forward. Questions should be open, eliminating a yes/no response is a great way to start a conversation. Non-leading questions are also great to get new perspectives. Having an option within the question is a big no.
Example: “how would you share this?” vs “how would you share this on social media”. Removing the “social media” aspect allows for the employee to not be led by the option of social media.
Asking questions about ideas presented shows you are interested in the idea and wish to know more. This creates a better understanding between management and employees.
Psychological safety is important and crucial to every company, regardless of size. This is not something that can be done overnight, the company needs to slowly apply the changes to the culture over time to build trust within the company. Once employees see the support, transparency, vulnerability, and more, they will start to feel more comfortable.
Making changes is hard, people teams need to work together with employees on making the changes occur slowly over time. Sharing ideas and asking questions allows the culture to improve.
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