Psychological safety at work: How to make sure your business is doing the right thing

In recent years, psychological safety in the workplace has become a more popular topic.

And for good reason – psychological safety in the workplace is essential for operating a dynamic, safe and supportive environment.

So no matter your business size, psychological safety and prioritising your team's mental health should be a top priority.

A common misguided belief is that psychological safety is commonplace in most businesses, with workplaces displaying unhealthy work cultures to be outliers.

Although not all workplaces are unhealthy, embodying true psychological safety in a workplace can be a gradual, not immediate process.

Building an environment that promotes and prioritises psychological safety takes work and effort.

The good news is when that effort is put in; your business will be rewarded with high-performing teams, new ideas, interpersonal trust and an overall healthy work culture.

What is psychological safety in the workplace?

Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson introduced the concept of psychological safety.

She says it is "a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking."

Psychological safety refers to an employee's comfort levels with being open, vulnerable and comfortable to be themselves and share their ideas within a workplace without fearing being shamed, ridiculed, or ignored.

Regardless of the outcome of the idea or thought, an employee feels appreciated and respected and doesn't feel regret about choosing to share their thoughts.

Establishing psychological safety in the workplace helps employees feel more comfortable asking for assistance, sharing ideas and suggestions and questioning the status quo without worrying about social repercussions or negative consequences.

As a result, the business benefits from more innovation and diversity, making it a win-win for business owners and employees.

How can your business build psychological safety?

If you want to empower a psychologically safe team, you can do a few things to encourage a mentally healthy workplace. Below are our top tips for building a workplace with high psychological safety.

Encourage a positive team attitude

Research shows that a positive team climate is a psychologically safe workplace's most important driving force.

The same study also indicated that this positive team climate is more likely to be achieved if leaders demonstrate supportive, consultative behaviours while presenting challenging work to their teams.

In short, a positive attitude starts at the top. If a company's management team can maintain positive, engaging and healthy relationships with their teams, there will be a trickle effect of positivity down the line.

Normalise vulnerability related to work

Although the idea of vulnerability in the workplace can seem scary at first, it's quite simple when you break it down.

For example, is it better overall for the business managers and leaders to hear early on and first-hand about mistakes or find out through somebody else on a delayed timeline?

Likewise, if an employee feels overworked or burnt out, is it better for a business leader to know this and move around workloads or find out later when a deadline is missed?

When framed like this, vulnerability is also a tool that can help business leaders manage productivity and decision-making.

Vulnerability breeds vulnerability, so the best way to normalise this behaviour within the workplace is to start at the top.

Leaders set the status quo of a psychologically safe work environment for sharing mistakes, fears and anxieties.

Create space for new ideas

A great way to encourage a psychologically safe work environment and improve team dynamics is by creating space for all employees to share ideas.

Of course, every business is different, and depending on the layout of your company, you may need to invite new ways for these ideas to be shared or include time within a regular team meeting.

For example, some employees do not feel confident sharing their ideas in a team environment.

In that case, we suggest a different method for sharing these ideas, such as email or a submission board.

Invest in leadership development training

Building a psychologically safe team and building interpersonal trust starts with the leaders in a business.

To ensure you have the best team psychological safety, we recommend investing in training and development for your business managers and leaders.

Some critical skills for leaders may be learning about open dialogue, listening, positive communication, and general tips for building a supportive environment.

Call in an expert, and help develop a new status quo by having the leaders of your business act as role models for building team psychological safety.

Create policies that encourage active listening

Finding out which policies work best for your business will likely take some trial and error.

However, attempting to create strategies that encourage listening, positive feedback and encouragement will be beneficial in the long run.

Some examples of policies that may work for your business include:

  • Leaving phones outside meeting rooms to ensure the presence
  • Actively ask for everybody to have an input
  • Schedule meetings with time slots for involved individuals, providing equal access to share ideas
  • Encourage question rounds after strategy meetings

Support those with illnesses, injuries and disabilities

Suppose you are a manager or business owner looking to create a culture of inclusivity and diversity in your workplace.

In that case, we encourage you to contact APM to discuss hiring those with illnesses, injuries and disabilities.

Through our government-funded disability employment service, we help people find and keep jobs and set them up with an environment in which they can thrive.

Your business may be eligible for support to make work easier for employees with injuries, illnesses and disabilities.

To find out more about our service or to expand your workforce, get in touch with APM today!