The key to keeping your employees

Employee retainment is under the spotlight for team leaders everywhere right now as employers struggle to fill vacancies and recruitment becomes even more competitive.

For many leaders the need to keep your team members happy, healthy and motivated has never been so important.

Part of this drive is the impact COVID-19 has had on the way we work, with more employees looking for flexibility, roles with purpose and an employer that knows the importance of good mental health and wellbeing.

One of the key factors is simply how safe your employees feel during work – whether that’s in the office, a remote location or working from home.

Workplace health and safety experts say your team’s psychological safety is paramount when it comes to retaining your employees.

And if you’re not aware of your team’s current psychological safety level you could be at risk of losing your best performers.

What is psychological safety?

Communicorp’s Senior Consultant Psychologist Eliza Cooper breaks down what psychological safety is explains why it’s not something you can only consider when things get difficult, but something you and your organisation should always be aware of.

“Psychological safety is an environment whereby one feels included and they believe they will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes,” Eliza says.

“It’s not an on-or-off concept, but a concept that exists on a continuum, with each team or workplace sitting somewhere along that continuum at any one point in time.”

How is our psychological safety impacted?

Change and leadership expert Timothy Clarke describes four stages of psychological safety in the workplace in his book, 'The 4 stages of psychological safety'.

  1. Inclusion safety
  2. Learner safety
  3. Contributor safety
  4. Challenger safety

Eliza explains this is useful for leaders to understand as it explains psychological safety is built in stages.

“The foundation of feeling safe is to belong to the team or workplace (inclusion safety), then being able to ask questions (learner safety), feeling safe to contribute without fear of embarrassment (contributor safety) before the final stage of questioning others (challenger safety).”

“The presence or absence of each of these four stages will impact on psychological safety and where the team or workplace sits on that continuum.”

Eliza said other factors may also apply.

“Past experiences in other workplaces, including the type of leadership, or ways of working such as working from home and hybrid teams, respectful relationships, workload and organisational change can all be an impact.”

Psychological safety while working from home

A key impact employees have faced to their mental health and wellbeing is the need to work from home or remotely - often at short notice and with disruption to normal routines and their existing home life.

“Remote working is another factor that can impact psych safety – either positively or negatively,” Eliza says.

“When done well, remote working can give employees greater flexibility and open conversations about work life balance or caring responsibilities.

“But it can also negatively impact psych safety by contributing to feelings of isolation and boundary blurring between home and work-life.”

Why psychological safety vital for staff retention?

Many businesses already know the cost of high staff turnover can be huge. Not just the financial cost of recruiting new people, but your reputation as an employer and the way you prioritise the health and wellbeing of your team is significant.

You don’t have to go far to see poor reviews for companies who haven’t got this step right when they advertise for roles on Seek and other platforms.

“With a competitive labour market at play employees are able to vote with their feet and a workplace that isn’t psychological safe may do that,” Eliza says.

“If poor psychological safety is present and alternative roles are available – employees are given the choice to make that decision.”

“We spend a lot of our lives at work - so why work somewhere where you don’t feel like you belong, don’t feel safe to ask questions, contribute or challenge ideas.”

How to improve your team’s feeling of safety


  • Check policies and procedures support a psychologically safe workplace
  • Check what data is captured to measure this – do you have lead and lag indicators?
  • Get executive leaders to be part of a commitment and share this in the workplace
  • Develop and launch a long-term mental health strategy with an action plan – psych safety isn’t a tick box exercise, it is built over time

People leaders

  • Take time to genuinely get to know your team members
  • Make psych safety a priority and establish team-wide behaviours to promote this
  • Embrace and encourage curiosity
  • Show appreciation for ideas or questions