Maintaining a work environment that is physically and psychologically safe is essential at work.
But while it’s fairly obvious whether a place is physically safe, the psychological component of work is often overlooked.
But without psychological safety, workers are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, fear, and stress — factors that stifle productivity and creativity.
The inverse is also true. Creating a steady and safe work environment can be a massive boon for your team.
If you’re new to the notion of psychological safety, this article will give you an overview of the idea, and some simple tips to improve the well-being of your team with psychology in mind.
What is psychological safety?
Says Dr. Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School Professor,
Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.
Put another way, some managers prefer workers to keep their head down, not speak up, and never contradict the boss—just do the work. While this approach to leadership may have some upsides in controlling the work environment, it also stifles it.
A psychologically safe workplace takes the opposite approach, seeking to enable creativity and productivity to flourish by removing negative experiences that might suppress those efforts.
The costs of not feeling safe in the workplace
One of the main reasons that employees quit their jobs is that they are unwilling to stay in a situation where they are either disengaged or their security is uncertain.
This doesn’t just apply to job security, it also applies to emotional security.
Stress damages your health, your happiness, and even your relationships.
Daily fear and anxiety creates turnover.
Not being able to exercise autonomy or share ideas reduces engagement and interest in a job.
On the flip side, feeling safe and able to contribute at work means that you and your team will do better on the job, feel better about it, and get more out of your work than you would otherwise.
Here are four easy ways to make you and your employees feel more comfortable.
Be willing to be vulnerable yourself
Most people fear rejection at work. This is understandable. What we fear most can have a big impact on how we feel at work.
One way to minimize the fear of rejection at work is to approach your job with a little bit of vulnerability. If you’re a leader, be willing to ask for help, for example, and be honest about your mistakes and what you learned from them.
Show curiosity about others
When you engage others at work, we help create a positive working environment. You can do this by showing curiosity about the people around you.
This will help build trust in both personal and professional contexts. Being curious shows people that you are a good listener and have an openness to learning. This helps create a culture where learning (and the failure that sometimes comes with it) is welcome.
Keep emotions in check
It can be scary to open yourself up or to speak up at work. And if the response that comes back is excessive, that can have a chilling effect on team culture.
Try at all times to remain professional. Stay grounded in facts. If you are feeling stress or anger, think before you speak. And if you need to, defer a conversation until you’re in a better frame of mind.
Take time off to refresh
People aren’t physically able to work in a state of anxiety and stress for the long term. So don’t wear your fear or stress to work either.
If you feel anxiety creeping up, take time off to refresh your mind. Get some fresh air and go for a walk on a coffee break. Or do yoga or meditate, play Candy Crush—whatever works for you to gain fresh energy
Regular breaks can improve the amount of creative energy and resilience you have, which in turn, can improve every interaction you take.
Psychological safety and meetings
A lot about our work culture comes from what happens in meetings. In fact, our research suggests that positive meeting culture and team culture are directly correlated.
To create a safe and secure work environment, practice good meeting habits.
Set and share an agenda. People sometimes feel ambushed when topics or questions are raised that they weren’t expecting.
Encourage active participation. Let team members take ownership of their own updates or areas of expertise.
Model expected behaviors. Use each meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate the culture you want to see embodied by those around you.
Make room for everyone. There are many reasons why some team members dominate the discussion and others never speak. Try to balance those factors by asking questions to quieter people or “go around the table” so that they have a chance to break into the discussion.
Talking with your team about psychological safety
You can help ensure that your team is aware of these issues by talking about them.
Talk to your team in a friendly, supportive manner, but be honest about how you think it could be better.
Be careful not to re-traumatize or alienate your colleagues if you do talk about negative behaviors. Often behaviors that cause stress and anxiety come from the best intentions.
In the end, tell everyone what you expect from them and what you expect from yourself.
If your job is stressful, if you are constantly worried, if your job is more difficult than you expected, or if your work is less satisfying than you hoped it would be, there are ways to make it better.
By focusing on psychological safety, you build the foundation for a positive work culture where everyone feels able to do their best work.