Learning & Development

The Importance of Psychological Safety at Work

There are a number of factors employees look for in corporate culture. They want to work in an environment where they get along with their colleagues and where the company values closely resemble their own, for example.

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Psychological Safety in the Workplace

One factor that’s become increasingly important is psychological safety. The Center for Creative Leadership defines psychological safety as “the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” Although this concept is unfamiliar to many, it has been around for some time.

“Psychological safety as an organizational construct isn’t new,” writes Aman Kidwai in an article for Fortune. But, Kidwai adds, psychological safety is “experiencing a rebirth as companies become more geographically dispersed and seek out new ways to motivate and retain employees, increase productivity, and promote an inclusive culture.”

Missing Skills for Managers

Kidwai says that “research shows that psychological safety plays a significant role in engaging workers and reducing employee turnover—even more than pay,” but he also cites research from McKinsey that found most leaders lack the traits that encourage such an environment.

Because the goal is to make employees feel comfortable sharing their beliefs, asking questions, and making mistakes, traits that support that goal include being open-minded and patient with staff, respecting differences of opinion, and encouraging input from all stakeholders.

Therefore, all companies should seek to instill these characteristics into their managers in order to promote a strong sense of psychological safety.

Shared Values Create Engagement

Psychological safety isn’t just important for keeping employees happy, either. It’s crucial to ensure employees are sharing their valuable insights and concerns.

The parable about the emperor with no clothes is a great example of an environment in which those surrounding the emperor didn’t have a strong enough sense of psychological safety to speak up and the disastrous consequences of their unwillingness to do so.

The stakes can be much higher for companies when employees are too afraid or not motivated enough to share concerns about company decisions and direction.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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