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Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Every business owner hopes for a productive and hardworking team. Achieving that, however, can be easier said than done. It’s not enough to provide salaries and a workspace. It would be best if you also offered robust employee benefits along with 401k options and more. These items help create an attractive package that will retain your best employees and attract new talent.

You must ensure that your office culture is healthy and inclusive. If your company has developed a toxic culture where people don’t feel safe to work, you will start losing employees faster than you can replace them. One of the crucial elements of positive office culture is psychological safety. Below, we define psychological safety, why it matters, how it will benefit your office, and how to keep your feedback positive.

What is psychological safety?

The term psychological safety was first termed by Professor Amy Edmonson of the Harvard Business School. She defined it as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” The most effective and collaborative teams encourage people to share their opinions and ask questions. Team members should feel safe bringing up new ideas, sharing their feedback, and making mistakes without undue retaliation. To bring psychological safety to your office, you need to encourage your leaders to think about how they interact with their teams. If you appear dismissive or uninterested in comments and feedback from others, you will soon cease to hear any. It’s also essential to make eye contact and stay engaged during a conversation with your team members. If you’re on your phone or seem distracted, they will feel like their contributions are meaningless to you. By focusing on active listening when interacting with your team members and hearing their responses and input, you can slowly encourage your team to open up.

Why does psychological safety matter?

Imagine you’re in a meeting with a team you’re not familiar with. They’re discussing an acronym that their team uses frequently, and the conversation is moving fast. Since you don’t work with this team often, you don’t know what this acronym stands for, and you don’t understand what they’re talking about. Do you speak up, or do you stay silent? You may have said you would speak up and ask the question, but many people wouldn’t. No one wants to look ignorant, so they may avoid asking questions. You will never know who’s confused unless you have established a culture of psychological safety. By the time you figure it out, this colleague may be so frustrated they’re already halfway out the door to another job.

Here’s another example. Let’s say your team has a meeting to plan an important upcoming project. Everyone is on board and excited about the direction of the project. But one team member is quiet because she thinks there’s a flaw in one of the steps. She’s seen other people on the team be reprimanded for being negative when they bring up a potential issue, so she’s afraid to speak up and rock the boat. Instead, she stays silent and pretends she’s on board. Six months later, the flaw finally comes to light, and the project comes to a screeching halt. If the leader on this team had encouraged differing ideas and made an effort to get everyone’s honest opinion, this flaw could have been avoided. Unless you are getting sincere feedback from everyone, you may be missing out on a viewpoint that could have real consequences.

Benefits of psychological safety in the workplace

Just as it’s important to provide benefits, PTO, and appreciation for a job well done, psychological safety is a valuable element of an office that people enjoy working in. Here are some of the reasons why psychological safety will improve your workplace.

  • Reduces turnover. When people feel safe disagreeing or offering another opinion, they are more likely to stay in their roles because they think that their input is valued.
  • Improves morale. Team members who feel respected and heard are happier, work harder, and are less stressed.
  • Encourages creativity. When your staff feels comfortable offering their suggestions, they won’t hesitate to speak up. You’ll never know what great ideas you could be missing out on if your team didn’t share them!
  • It’s part of inclusive company culture. It’s crucial to make sure that your workplace is inclusive for all. By listening to diverse opinions, you can make everyone feel appreciated.

How you can encourage psychological safety in your office

If you suspect that your office may have a toxic culture, or even if you want to get honest feedback on how people feel about their jobs, an excellent first step is to take an anonymous office survey. Be direct with your questions, and don’t be afraid of negative responses. If people feel unhappy in your office, you need to know as soon as possible.

There are many steps you can take to make sure you are receptive and open in your interactions. Below are some of the ways you can keep your communication positive.

  • Practice active listening. When someone is speaking to you, put your phone away, close your laptop, and focus on them. Make eye contact with them and be present for the conversation. Rather than make assumptions, ask the speaker for clarification if you’re unsure.
  • Offer genuine feedback. When you’re listening, you’ll be able to engage in a dialogue and offer your suggestions or comments, if you have any. It sounds simple, but this can make your team member feel more at ease. When you feel heard, you feel valued.
  • Give encouragement and positive feedback. Don’t overlook the importance of a “great job!” This can go a long way towards making someone feel appreciated and respected. Whenever you can, be sure to recognize a job well done.
  • No tolerance for bullying. If you see something, say something! Office harassment tends to escalate if it goes on too long unchecked. An organization shouldn’t tolerate anything along the lines of yelling, negative language, or name-calling.

We hope that this dive into psychological safety and its usefulness in the workplace was helpful! If you’re struggling to manage your HR needs, administer benefits, and stay compliant with regulations, PrestigePEO can help. Reach out to us to learn more!