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What Is Psychological Safety At Work

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Psychological Safety In The Workplace Means Belonging

Creating Psychological Safety at Work in a Knowledge Economy | Amy Edmondson, Harvard

Inclusion efforts rightfully have been focused on creating fair, respectful work environments. But leading employers also understand how a sense of belonging contributes to organizational performance and goals, according to Deloittes 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report. In fact, the report says, belonging is one of the most important human capital issues and one that many organizations are unprepared for:

  • 79% of organizations say fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce is important or very important for their success over the next 12 to 18 months
  • 93% agreed that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance
  • Only 13% say they are very ready to address this trend

The report explains that belonging has become a top organizational priority in part because the world seems less stable and more politically polarized. Meanwhile, people are working more hours than ever. So employees are expecting more from their work than a paycheck they are looking for an overall sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that includes belonging.

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Think about it when you were climbing the proverbial ladder, did you get to the next step by trying to be someone you werent or by doing work that was inauthentic? Most likely, the answer is no. You became a leader by employing the skills and knowledge you possess in ways you knew would help your organization be successful.

Now consider this: what if you worked in an environment where you knew your ideas would be shot down or had a leader who had no interest in progressing or trying anything new? Maybe you did have that kind of experience. How did it affect your career? How did it affect your mental health? How did it affect the organization as a whole?

Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says to remember that teamwork begins by building trust, And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.

How can I tell if my team is safe or unsafe?

There are several audits and evaluations you can take advantage of to find out how psychologically safe your organization is, but what it comes down to is being aware of what is safe and unsafe and being open to making the necessary changes. Lets first consider what an unsafe environment looks like.

Unsafe Environment

Safe Environment

The Fearless Organization Scan is a self-assessment developed in partnership with Professor Amy C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School , which uses four dimensions to measure psychological safety.

How much are people willing to help each other?

Avoid Blaming To Build Trust

Its easy when something goes awry to look for someone to blame. But, to build and maintain psychological safety in the workplace, focus on solutions.

Instead of What happened and why? ask How can we make sure this goes better next time? Notice the focus on the collaborative language: How can we make sure this goes smoothly next time? We statements turn the responsibility into a group effort, rather than singling out an individual for a mistake.

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Ways To Build Psychological Safety At Work

Making people feel comfortable and valued in the workplace will help maximize team performance

Canadian employers have legal obligations to protect the health and safety of their employees. But feeling safe in the workplace doesnt just mean avoiding physical dangers. A productive workforce with a strong workplace culture involves employees who feel psychologically safe as well.

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Psychological Safety And Teamwork

ScienceForWork on Twitter: " NEW EVIDENCE SUMMARY: What

Creating a safe space promotes positive work culture within teams. Teamwork gets improved when members feel safe and know they will be heard and acknowledged. In this way, new ideas get generated. Teamwork becomes a collaborative process where members contribute separately but work cohesively.

Members know they will not be punished for speaking up, raising concerns and admitting mistakes. Teams feel motivated and accepted so they work hard to achieve excellence.

They perform well as they thrive in a culture of trust and openness. Ambitious goals can be easily achieved by this.

High performing teams work together. They commit mistakes and find innovative solutions. When psychological safety operates, team performance improves as there are multiple ways for employees to share their thoughts and get themselves heard by all.

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Establish Positive Growth When Mistakes Happen

When mistakes happen, it is important as leaders to react without blame and consider how to use this as a learning moment. Encourage a discussion about what can be improved upon and how this moment can teach everyone to avoid making the same mistake.

Instead of making the employee feel bad for their mistake, ask how the team can ensure a better outcome next time. Creating team psychological safety by putting an emphasis on collaborative language will allow for problem-solving, growth and innovation for all, rather than disappointment for one.

Create Space For New Ideas

When challenging an idea, provide the challenge in the larger context of support. Consider whether you only want ideas that have been thoroughly tested, or whether youre willing to accept highly creative, out-of-the-box ideas that are not yet well-formulated. Learn how to embrace new ideas to foster more innovative mindsets on your team.

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How To Create Psychological Safety At Work

As a leader, you have to hold people accountable for performance metricsbut the job doesnt end there. You must also maintain employee engagement by helping people feel comfortable and building the shared belief that the team is safe for risk-taking.

Here are eight tips to build psychological safety in the workplace:

Building A Culture Of Curiosity

What is Psychological Safety, and How do you create Psychological Safety at Work?

The next time youre conducting a post-mortem, try replacing blame with curiosity. This means having a learning mindset and asking neutral, inquisitive questions.

Instead of: Who made this mistake?Try: What are some things we think went wrong? and How can we prevent them from happening again in the future?

Instead of: Which one of you didnt do your job properly?Try: What do we think could have been done better? and How can we apply what weve learnt moving forward?

Replacing blame does not mean replacing accountability managers can still acknowledge that an individuals behaviour was a problem. The key is dwelling less on the who and moving forward to the what , why , and how .

Building a culture of curiosity over blame naturally reduces defensiveness and encourages people to question the status quo. When questions like Why did you do it this way instead of that way? and How did you arrive at this decision? are no longer taken as personal offense, they can spark meaningful discussions.

After all, an inquisitive workforce is the cornerstone of any innovative company.

Psychological safety at work is not about coddling your employees its about getting them comfortable with conflict because they trust that open discourse will lead to better outcomes.

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Develop An Open Mindset

In order to break free of judgment and strengthen the relationship between team members, its important to have an open mindset. Often we look at things from our own lens, but approaching them from a different angle can help bring perspective. In order to develop an open mindset at the workplace:

  • Encourage teams to share feedback with one another
  • Help them learn how to respond to input from others
  • Rather than criticism, encourage teams and individuals to see feedback as a way to strengthen and build upon their ideas and processes.

When it comes to company culture, people often talk about three key ingredients to ensure its healthy: strong mission and vision that help drive clarity for people in their roles individual values align with company values and the prospect of professional growth. However psychological safety is also key to ensuring you have a healthy company culture where people feel able to contribute their ideas and be themselves, as demonstrated by Googles study.

Actively Soliciting Upward Feedback

Fallibility increases trust in leaders.

From senior management to individual team leads, actively seeking upward feedback communicates humility, a willingness to acknowledge personal mistakes and shortcomings, and an openness to differing opinions.

But before inviting employee feedback, its important to first learn how to accept feedback. This is especially important when receiving criticisms, so you dont end up shooting down opinions or lashing out defensively. Reactions like these will only backfire on your efforts and worsen psychological safety issues.

In the early days, when employees are still feeling unsafe about sharing upward feedback, the option of anonymity could help encourage participation.

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Where Psychological Safety Meets Workplace Safety

Edmondson sees the ability to speak freely as inextricably linked to workplace safety: In analyses of preventable workplace safety incidents, there is frequently if not in the majority of cases evidence that someone had a concern but didnt speak up about it, or didnt stop someone from behaving in an unsafe way, because they didnt feel psychologically safe to do so.


When safety pros ask workers to speak up about unsafe conditions or to step in when a co-worker is engaging in risky behaviors, they might not understand the emotional stakes involved, notes Rosa Antonia Carrillo, president of safety consultancy Carrillo and Associates and author of the book The Relationship Factor in Safety Leadership: Achieving Success through Employee Engagement.

Interaction is one of the riskiest endeavors a human being can engage in, Carrillo said, because every time you interact, you stand the possibility of being humiliated or rejected.

She points out that fear of rejection is a powerful force in the human mind because it stems from hardwired, primal instincts similar to the need for food and shelter.

Anthropologists have explained that the need to belong was a survival mechanism, she said. You needed to belong to your tribe, your group, because they were the ones that helped protect and feed you, so if you got kicked out of the group, you were dead. And that is what gets triggered in the human brain when theres a fear of ostracism or exclusion.

Set A Tone For The Involved Team

Psychological Safety

It is your responsibility to assure the team members that they can let it all out from their minds. There is no need to hide issues and walk away. When you say so, team members become confident of their insecurities.

They feel happy that their voice will be heard. In this way, a culture is set where people feel free to talk about anxious and emotional issues.

Psychological safety is needed to ensure that silent problems are brought on the table without hesitation. Solutions are discussed within the team and the bond of the team members is strengthened.

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It Makes Remote Teams Feel Valued

Remote work is likely here to stay in some form, and psychological safety is critical for this environment, as working remotely often blurs the lines between an employee’s personal and professional life, Keith MacKenzie, content strategy manager at recruiting-software company Workable, told Insider.

Our personal lives, he said, “can no longer be checked at the door.” “It’s not realistic to expect employees to do that anymore.” Managers should normalize interruptions like pets, children, and housemates during video and conference calls.

But above all, they should stay close to their employees and listen to their needs, Pronk said. Aon has several initiatives aimed at improving wellbeing for remote workers, including access to mindfulness and well-being webinars, the app TalkSpace that provides online therapy, and an app developed in-house that lets them track and measure their emotional, social, and physical well-being and get help and support. The company also has a partnership with and Varsity Tutors that allow employees to get discounts on services like childcare, housekeeping, and learning tools.

Giving people permission to work differently, such as with flexible hours, or take a step back when they’re not feeling well makes employees feel valued.

What Is Psychological Safety And Why Is It Important

The concept of psychological safety in the workplace was first identified by organisational behavioural scientist, Amy Edmondson in 1999 in her paper entitled: Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Her research found that companies with a trusting workplace performed better.

In an interview with Curt Nickisch of HBR, she elaborates on psychological safety: The term implies to people a sense of cosiness and thats not what its really about. What its about is candour what its about is being direct, taking risks, being willing to say, I screwed that up. Being willing to ask for help when youre in over your head.

Feeling safe, secure and being able to work without the fear of negative consequences, even when you make a mistake, relies on feeling psychologically safe. It means people are comfortable being themselves. In psychologically safe workplaces, diversity is respected and personal risk-taking is encouraged. Above all, team members respect each other and feel accepted. The feeling is like taking a leap and knowing youll be caught.

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What Is Psychological Safety And Why Is It The Key To Great Teamwork

In 2015 following the success of Project Oxygen, Google published the results of a two year study into what makes a great team. The interesting thing was that the answer wasnt: those with the most senior people, with the highest IQs or even those that made the least amount of mistakes.

Based on the findings of Project Aristotle, Google developed a list of the 5 key dynamics that make great teams successful: psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact.

While all five were necessary to create a successful team, psychological safety stood out as the most important factor.According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, who coined the term:

Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

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Why Psychological Safety In The Workplace Is Important


Humiliation, blame, criticism and bullying create workplaces where employees are filled with fear. This kind of psychologically unsafe environment doesnt get the best out of people. Workers are too busy watching their own backs and frightened of putting a foot wrong to make suggestions and help each other out. They dare not share ideas for fear of being shut down.

When we experience a lack of trust, respect or conflict we feel stressed. When we feel stressed our brain triggers hormones to support a fight-or-flight response. Continually being in that state is bad for our health. This state also has a negative impact on our ability to think strategically. It stifles creativity and teamwork, and that isnt good for business.

A psychologically safe workplace is the opposite. In an environment where people are encouraged to understand each others points of view, understand each others strengths and weaknesses, support each other, and feel confident to make suggestions and offer ideas, teams flourish. Mistakes 7:4%3C233::AID-KPM94%3E3.0.CO 2-F” rel=”nofollow”> essential for innovation) are made, chewed over and learned from.

Perhaps the biggest study supporting the importance of psychological safety in the workplace is , which focused on how to build the perfect team. The study reviewed half a century of academic studies on how teams worked and looked at hundreds of Googles own teams to try and unlock the key as to why some teams soared and others failed.

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How To Measure Psychological Safety At Work

The following questions make up the Fearless Organisation Scan: a framework you can use to measure the psychological safety within your team or organisation.

  • If someone makes a mistake on your team, is it often held against them?
  • Are members of your team able to bring up problems and tough issues?
  • Do people on your team sometimes reject others for being different?
  • Is it safe to take a risk on your team?
  • Is it difficult for members of your team to ask other members for help?
  • Does anyone on your team deliberately act in a way that undermines anothers efforts.
  • Are the unique skills and talents of people on your team valued and utilised?
  • Build A Culture Of Inclusion

    Leaders and superiors should make it a point to involve their teams as much as possible in the decision-making process in order to promote psychological safety at work. Managers can ask for perspectives, input, and feedback from workers.

    Creating a culture of inclusion is of the utmost importance. Leaders should also try to communicate leadership decisions to team members as and when necessary.

    Businesses might also reduce the effect of unconscious bias in the workplace and create more objective processes through automation.

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    Psychological Health In The Workplace

    The purpose of this Guideline is to support the Labour Programs mandate of promoting fair, safe, and productive workplaces. It is a brief introduction to the concept of psychological health and safety in the workplace. This Guideline provides relevant definitions, identifies risk factors for poor workplace psychological health, and provides practical strategies to improve workplace psychological health at all levels of an organization. It also directs readers to valuable resources regarding workplace psychological health.

    A Leaders Guide To Psychological Safety

    Harnessing the power of psychological safety at work

    Creating this environment requires demystifying psychological safety for senior managers, translating the concepts into examples they can relate to.

    When we talk about feeling safe at work, what comes to mind is physical or functional safety. But how safe do you feel psychologically? Do you feel safe to speak up, voice your opinions? Do you feel safe to make mistakes without ridicule or punishment? asks Rikia Birindelli-Fayne, senior director, corporate engagement, EMEA for Catalyst.

    Unfortunately, she says, the answer is often no. Working with executives, we often see an unwritten rule against constructive risk-taking. These unwritten rules need to be broken, because leaders are the conduit of culture change. Catalysts research revealed that 45% of employee experiences of inclusion are based on leadership behaviours.

    As well as leaders, team members have a role to play in making colleagues feel included and valued. Those that are more cooperative than competitive create more psychological safety, says Birindelli-Fayne. When youre thinking about speaking up, do you think of asking for help? Are your team members willing to help you?

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