Psychological Safety – Workplace Wellbeing

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle

The concept of psychological safety in the workplace has become an essential element in fostering a thriving, innovative, and collaborative work environment. 

Coined notably by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson (1999), psychological safety describes a team climate deemed safe for “interpersonal risk-taking”. Characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect, where people are comfortable being themselves in a professional context.

The Scientific Foundation

Google’s ‘Project Aristotle’, a seminal investigation into team productivity in 2012, brought the concept of psychological safety into the spotlight. The project uncovered that the highest-performing teams were those where members felt safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. This finding highlights that psychological safety is not merely about feeling comfortable in your surroundings, it’s also crucial for driving team success through increased innovation and collaboration.

Implementing Psychological Safety

Creating an environment of psychological safety means cultivating an open culture where every team member can voice their ideas, ask questions, and admit mistakes without fear of ridicule or retribution. Crucial to this culture is the practising of heightened ‘social sensitivity’ – showing skill at understanding how others feel based on their tone, expressions and other nonverbal cues (New York Times, 2016). 

How can organisations achieve and maintain this?

1. Promote Open Communication:

Encourage employees to speak up and share their thoughts and concerns. Active listening should be practised by all, especially leaders, to validate the contributions of team members.

2. Foster Inclusivity and Respect:

Diverse opinions should be celebrated and promoted. This involves recognising and appreciating different perspectives and backgrounds, which can lead to richer ideas and solutions.

3. Develop Empathetic Leadership:

Training for leaders should focus on emotional intelligence and empathy, ensuring they can understand and relate to the experiences of their team members. Leaders should act as role models in demonstrating respect and understanding, and ensure all team members have equal opportunity to have an input in discussions. A phenomenon researchers refer to as “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking” (New York Times, 2016).

4. Recognise and Reward Vulnerability:

When team members take risks or admit errors, this should not only be accepted but praised. Highlighting these actions as strengths can encourage more open exchanges and future innovation.

Psychological Safety as a Strategic Advantage

The benefits of psychological safety extend beyond individual teams. Organisations where this is a priority see improved employee engagement, higher retention rates, and better overall performance. Employees in psychologically safe environments are more likely to remain with their employers and feel committed to their jobs, reducing turnover and enhancing organisational knowledge. (Psych Safety, 2020)

Where to begin?

For Leaders looking to introduce these transformative practises into their company culture, specialised training like our CPD-accredited Wellbeing Manager Programme can be invaluable. Such programmes provide essential tools and frameworks for managers to cultivate an atmosphere that supports psychological safety.

Interested in making psychological safety a cornerstone of your workplace culture? Get in contact to learn more.

Join us in leading the charge towards a healthier, more dynamic workplace.

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