6 Ways Psychological Safety Can Help Create a Better Workplace Culture

·4 min read

With 2022 underway, many of the challenges facing organizations roll up to workplace culture—finding and keeping top talent, providing flexible work arrangements, addressing mental health and wellbeing, improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and fostering a mindset of ethics and compliance. In all these areas, psychological safety can help drive positive changes.

At its core, psychological safety is about building trust and a sense of belonging at work, so people feel comfortable asking questions and speaking up with ideas that differ from the status quo—qualities that help create a dynamic, innovative culture.

The concept of psychological safety has become more widely known in recent years, in part, to the work of Dr. Amy C. Edmondson, a professor of leadership and management at the Harvard Business School, and author of a book on psychological safety in the workplace, The Fearless Organization. Dr. Edmondson defines psychological safety as a “shared belief that the environment is conducive to interpersonal risks like asking for help, admitting a mistake or criticizing a project, and that can be challenging to do.”

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Challenging, yes, however, creating a psychologically safe workplace, especially right now, can impact the success of individuals and organizations by reducing turnover, inspiring creativity and increasing engagement, productivity and better decision-making. Consider these six ways to embed psychological safety in your workplace.

1. Make Psychological Safety Part of Your Culture

No surprise that in today’s hot job market, “what is your company culture like?” is one of the first questions that candidates ask. To compete, organizations will need to clearly define and communicate their culture and the values and principles that shape it. A culture in which people can speak up without repercussions and are treated with respect and transparency is a great message to attract top candidates and keep current employees from leaving.

Psychological safety is a key component of DEI, too. In a survey Traliant conducted with DEI leaders across industries, a quarter of respondents said they were not confident that employees feel a sense of belonging, inclusion and psychological safety. Leaders who foster psychological safety and inclusion are open to sharing their own experiences, seeking out others with diverse backgrounds, identities and viewpoints and listening with empathy.

2. Develop Leaders Who Exemplify Psychological Safety in Their Behaviors

This starts with the CEO and executive team, who acknowledge their mistakes, failures and lessons learned, paving the way for team members to talk about theirs. It’s not about showing weakness—it’s about being authentic and showing that we’re all human.

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3. Incorporate Psychological Safety in Ethics & Compliance Programs

Compliance is not only the responsibility of compliance officers and their teams. Everyone should understand their role in compliance and feel safe raising their hands and speaking up. A speak-up culture is more than voicing concerns about misconduct, it’s also about sharing ideas and suggestions for how to make the organization a better workplace.

4. Address Psychological Safety in Employee Health & Wellness Benefits

The focus on employee mental health has shined a light on the need to include psychological safety in health benefits and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and better promote the available resources. According to Maven’s recent survey of nearly 500,000 working parents, a psychologically healthy work environment was identified as one of the characteristics of a workplace where employees don’t feel burned out and feel more supported.

5. Ensure Remote Workers Feel Connected to the Company Culture

Having flexible and remote work options are some of the top priorities for many employees; however, organizations should be aware that some workers may feel isolated and lonely. To foster psychological safety in a virtual/hybrid environment, managers should be proactive about regularly checking in with team members and asking for their feedback and ideas. The key is to communicate often and practice active listening.

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6. Train Everyone on Psychological Safety

As part of ongoing conversations and communication, training and educating employees and managers on psychological safety helps to reinforce the organization’s commitment to building trust and transparency and raising awareness of the benefits of supportive behaviors and practices.

In a post-pandemic world, a psychologically safe workplace is one of the keys to creating a speak-up culture and unleashing creativity so that individuals, teams and organizations can succeed.

John Arendes is the CEO of Traliant, a provider of online compliance training, helping thousands of organizations foster safe, ethical workplace cultures of respect and inclusion. He has over 25 years of experience growing successful organizations and leading teams (remote and in-person) in the software and compliance training industries.

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