Psychological safety is the impression that people are safe to be themselves at work. It is a shared belief among team members that their work environment is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Workers in psychologically safe environments are comfortable being themselves without fear of negative consequences to their teams’ perceptions of them or to their status or careers.
There are numerous benefits to both employers and employees in fostering a psychologically safe work environment. One Gallup study linked it to an increase in employee engagement and a 12% increase in productivity. At the same time, a 2015 Google study of its employees found that psychological safety was the most critical factor in determining a Google Team’s success. Psychological safety also underpinned the following four factors identified in that study: dependability, structure, clarity and impact of work.
Despite its importance, however, only 47% of employees globally described their workplaces as psychologically safe and healthy. Here are six ways you can create psychological safety in your workplace.
1. Build Your Team’s Trust
Building the trust of your team is the first step in creating a psychologically safe work environment. There has to be a sense of confidence for workers to feel safe, and it has to be reciprocal. An environment of mutual trust and respect is key.
There are some simple ways to accomplish this. Start by being honest about what you don’t know. You can’t possibly know everything. As a manager, your job is to offer to find out. Share credit for your team’s successes publicly and often, and conversely, don’t blame others when things go wrong. Instead, focus your team on how you can collectively solve the problem.
2. Trust Your Team
Avoid micromanaging and demonstrate to your team members that you trust them to perform their tasks independently. Solicit feedback from your team members but more importantly, show them when you act on that feedback. If there is a reason you’re not acting on it, share that with the team member as well. This indicates that although you may disagree with them on a particular issue or way of handling a task, you do still respect their opinions and contributions.
Finally, trust requires a healthy amount of self-awareness. Be self-aware and communicate your preferences. How do you prefer to be contacted? What kind of schedule do you keep? Encourage your team members to be self-aware and to share their preferences as well. Consider supplying behavioural assessments that can help your team become more self-aware.
3. Support Your Team
Being a champion for your team can be another way to build their trust. However, it will also show the group that you have their back and that they come first, that they are supported in their roles. Teams that feel abandoned by their managers in a larger corporate context will not feel safe. However, the perception that a manager will fight for their team has the opposite effect.
There will be times when your team members are stressed, either by their workload or competing priorities at home. Reach out, offer support and flexibility. Give them the space to deal with their issues, and they’ll return to the team more engaged and more productive.
The sink or swim mentality has no place in a psychologically healthy work environment. This is what a performance review is for. If a team member struggles with a task, reach out and offer support or get them the help they need to succeed.
4. Let Your Team Support You
In addition to providing support for your team, allow them to support you. It can be challenging for managers to admit when they’re overwhelmed, but your honesty can foster a general feeling of safety for the team and help bond the team together. Delegate duties to others and lean on your team members when you need to. They’ll feel they can do the same when they need help.
5. Make Your Team a Truly Collaborative Effort
Insist on active participation from your team and give your full attention to them as well. Show you’re engaged by responding, questioning and following up on points made by team members. Don’t just be open to feedback — include your team in the decision-making process. This is a critical engagement tool and will help foster a far more positive and healthy environment. Your team members should not feel they are in competition but instead feel they are able to work collaboratively toward the team goals.
6. Foster a Positive Space
Positive work cultures are the ones in which employees are encouraged to take rest breaks, and lengthy meetings are kept to a minimum. Team leaders in positive work environments take time to celebrate achievements and reward them with praise or even incentives such as small gifts or prizes. They also foster a sense of belonging with team socials and gatherings outside of work. These are the things that provide some much-needed downtime while at the same time forging stronger bonds within teams.
Fostering a positive space also means dealing quickly and effectively with negativity. This includes gossip and aggressive conflict that can eventually lead to a toxic work environment. Do not let negativity fester. Instead, address it directly and immediately. Speak candidly to the source of the problem (or sources if there is blame on both sides). Hold bullies accountable but continue to encourage honest, respectful discussion. Above all, lead by example. Do not entertain gossip or engage in it yourself.
Promote healthy conflict in your team by emphasizing the need for understanding rather than agreement. Focus on issues rather than individuals and replace “you” statements with “I” statements. Remind your team members that being assertive is okay and even encouraged, but being disrespectful is not.
Watch Your Workplace — And Workers — Thrive
Companies that create psychological safety in the workplace foster a positive work culture and enjoy the productivity payoffs of a workforce that is more satisfied and committed to their work.