Psychological Safety at Work

Psychological Safety at work

When we talk about psychological safety at work, we refer to that feeling of well-being that comes from knowing that our decisions are not affected by the possible reactions of the people who are part of our working environment. 

If we make any mistakes, we do not have a significant fear of retaliation; if we need help, we are able to ask for it because we know that our colleagues will undoubtedly support us. 

Offering psychological security to employees involves integrating this philosophy of “Hey, we made a mistake. It’s okay, we’ll resolve it and let us learn from it” within the culture and values of the organization. 

What do organizations gain from this? Innovative teams, who dare to take risks and try new things, who make assertive decisions because of continuous learning, teamwork, better communication, trust in managers, among other things. 

These are a series of benefits that translate into more productive and higher-performing teams that contribute to business success. 

To do this, one of the main priorities of an HR department is precisely to promote psychological safety in the organization, achieving that state of satisfaction that both employees and employers seek. 

What is psychological safety?

Amy Edmondson, an American professor of leadership, teamwork, and organizational learning, was the first to use this term. 

She defines psychological safety as the belief that we will not be punished or humiliated for talking about our impressions, concerns, for asking questions or passing on mistakes. 

It is essential that companies promote a culture in which people can communicate openly, as this is the only way you to guarantee the necessary learning for development and growth. 

When a team is not working with enough psychological safety and you ask or suggest another perspective in times of uncertainty, the silence seizes employees for fear of appearing incompetents, intruders or being ignored. 

According to Edmondson, “We are so busy managing impressions that we are not helping to create a better organization.” 

Teams with high psychological security are open about making mistakes, discussing and learning from them so that they are not repeated. 

Result: teams with higher performance and innovation capacity. Google is an excellent example of this. 

Do we give up excellence if we work on psychological safety?

Many leaders know that it is important for employees to feel secure in their positions, as it increases satisfaction and engagement. 

However, they are afraid that excessive security will lead their teams to perform worse, downplay mistakes and neglect excellence. 

In this case, a mistake is being made in the interpretation of concepts,  as they are confusing security with motivation. 

The psychological security does not mean to belittle the quality standards. It is about transparency, respect, honesty, and the sincerity of teamwork. 

From HR, our job is to promote a high level of both safety and motivation and thus avoid the following situations: 

  • Comfort zone: it appears when the levels of psychological safety are high as opposed to those of motivation. In this situation, employees enjoy the company of their colleagues and respect each other, but they do their jobs without ambition or desire to prosper, thus stagnating performance levels.         
  • Apathy zone: occurs when levels of safety and motivation are low. Here, the work environment is based on being “seat warmer“, and the relations with peers are nonexistent or even hostile.         
  • Anxiety zone: implies high levels of motivation, but low levels of psychological safety. The result is employees with interpersonal anxiety problems, and they do not dare ask questions or share ideas that could be beneficial for the entire organization.         

The key is to maintain safety and motivation at high levels to enter the “Learning Zone“: where everyone feels driven to go beyond their objectives, innovating, taking risks (to a certain extent), and achieving ambitious goals. 

3 ways to implement psychological safety on your teams

Edmondson not only defined what it means to have psychological safety in the organization, but as well highlights three main aspects to implement it. 

1. View work as a learning opportunity

When faced with new projects or challenges, no one, not even the project leader, knows what is going to happen. A multitude of scenarios can play out, some positive, others quite negative. 

Letting the whole team assume the role of apprentice, helping each other, so the information is more likely to be sharedwill allow you to take quick and appropriate decisions at the right time. 

However, if the focus is only on execution, employees can feel insecure and afraid of making a mistake, which can hinder or slow down productivity. 

2. Acknowledge your failures 

We are imperfect human beings and as such, we make mistakes. Recognizing this shows humility and invites others to do the same. 

Leaders also need feedback from their employees to improve management and they capacity in decision-making. Being willing to listen to everything employees have to say improves communication and transparency and encourages staff to share their concerns. 

In this sense, Team Insights is the appropriate platform so your team can present their feedback safely and effectively in such a way that, as a leader, you know if you are implementing psychological safety in an appropriate way. 

3. Encourage curiosity

Fostering curiosity prompts people to express themselves and ask questions. 

There are no such thing as dumb questions, and no one should feel that way for asking questions. Otherwise, in important moments where having as much information as possible is crucial, employees will not dare to ask, and the success of the work could suffer. 

When we feel safe, we work better, we get more involved, and we are more efficient and creative. 

If an organization wants to be successful, it is necessary to promote a culture that nurses a safe working environment, in which workers can share their ideas and doubts openly in a way that it encourages creative thinking and problem solving in an agile, adaptative and open way. 

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