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Psychological Safety and Organizational Success

Psychological safety can help individuals and organizations thrive. When people experience psychological safety, they are comfortable being themselves. They are willing to share their ideas, express their creativity and take risks without fearing that their co-workers will criticize them—which are all types of behavior that can lead to innovation.1

Unfortunately, most workplaces don’t take the steps necessary to create psychological safety. As a result, they experience reduced employee collaboration, satisfaction and morale. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, only three in 10 employees strongly agree with the statement that their opinions count at work.2

But, it’s possible to improve that outcome. The study also found that by investing time and effort into creating a psychologically safe space, six out of 10 employees would strongly agree that their opinions count at work. Not to mention, organizations could realize a 27 percent reduction in turnover, a 40 percent reduction in safety incidents and a 12 percent increase in productivity.2

Create a safe space at your organization.

Psychological safety creates room for your organization to grow. When employees feel safe, they are more willing to ask questions, raise concerns and speak their mind. This can help your company overcome challenges and move forward more efficiently than ever before. But, creating true psychological safety requires time, effort and commitment. Keep these four things in mind as you focus on creating psychological safety in your organization:

1. Set the stage.

Lay the groundwork for psychological safety through communication. Have your leaders send a personalized message to employees encouraging them to push against the status quo. Reassure them that they work in an open environment where they will be rewarded for speaking up and presenting radical thoughts, unproven theories or unorthodox opinions. In your message, you should also encourage your employees to take healthy workplace risks, including:

  • Speak up in a meeting or propose a new idea.
  • Disagree with your boss and offer a different way forward.
  • Stick up for a teammate in the face of adversity.
  • Step up and take on new responsibilities.

2. Encourage failure.

When we fail, we worry we’ll be punished or look foolish. So, we avoid speaking up or taking risks that could help solve challenges and move organizations forward.3 But, it doesn’t have to be that way. To overcome fear at your organization, your leaders need to actively express to employees that it’s okay to fail. There are several effective techniques that your leaders can engage in to achieve this:

  • Demonstrate humility and share stories of personal failures.
  • Reframe failure and talk about it as an opportunity to grow, learn and become the best version of yourself.
  • Create safe spaces—physically or digitally—where employees can openly share their opinions without fear of judgment.2

3. Acknowledge every effort.

To reinforce a culture of psychological safety, it’s important that leaders at your organization proactively respond to your employees when they take risks. They could simply express their gratitude and say “thank you so much for speaking up”. Or, if you have the resources, they could throw a “failure party” to honor the employee’s hard work and out-of-the-box thinking, even if it didn’t achieve the desired results. Everyone loves a party and it could present a great opportunity to discuss what went wrong and what could be done differently in the future!2

4. Measure your progress.

You will never know how psychologically safe your employees feel until you inquire. Simply ask, “how safe do you feel expressing your opinions at work and what can we change to make you feel even safer?” This can help create a dialogue and open your leaders’ eyes to any issues that your employees may have.

To get more specific and detailed answers, you can also hand out surveys. Some teams at Google include questions such as, “how confident are you that you won’t receive retaliation or criticism if you admit an error or make a mistake?”1 Then, use the feedback you receive to identify any potential issues and take steps to help your employees feel more psychologically secure at your workplace.

Eliminate organizational fear and foster growth.

Your organization needs to make it feel safe for employees to speak their mind. If they don’t, fear will hinder your workers from learning from their mistakes, developing their talents and feeling truly fulfilled at work. In fact, 89 percent of adults say it is essential for today’s business leaders to create safe and respectful workplaces.4

Psychological safety is about creating an environment where people are comfortable expressing themselves. To help create an open forum at your organization, encourage your leaders to invite opinions, encourage failure and create a safe space where both your employees and organization can flourish.

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