More than just a trending topic, cultivating psychological safety in your teams is a necessity. While many of us only recently started to learn about psychological safety in the workplace, there are published articles as early as the mid-1800s exploring this concept. The term psychological safety was born in 1965 and reignited in 1990 when William Khan said, “Employees need to feel safe to express themselves authentically.” It was cemented in our nomenclature when Amy Edmundson, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School defined it as a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

The competition to recruit top talent is fierce for businesses around the world. Performance depends on having the right people. Organizations have the best intentions of building strong cultures, but they often miss one of the unspoken reasons that people leave organizations — because they don’t feel safe to be themselves, to speak up in meetings, or to share their voice without fear of judgment or retaliation. Put simply, psychological safety is the foundation of a healthy and thriving environment. It has far-reaching benefits for both employees and businesses. 

Employee well-being drives engagement

If employees feel psychologically safe, they will feel lower levels of stress and anxiety and they will have a strong sense of belonging and acceptance. They won’t feel the Sunday Scaries and they won’t be spending their energy fearing what will happen if they say the wrong thing. A healthy workplace contributes to improved mental health, overall job satisfaction, and higher levels of motivation. As we move towards a more fluid work environment, the importance of employees feeling supported for their overall well-being — professionally and personally — is paramount to a psychologically safe workplace.

Fostering innovation and creativity

Have you ever had an amazing idea and felt too uncomfortable to share it? This happens more often than you think. Without a psychologically safe workplace, employees and teams will be held back from sharing an idea that could be a catalyst for change. However, when psychological safety exists, employees will share new ideas and take calculated risks. A culture of innovation and continuous improvement is born, propelling organizations to new levels of success.  

Team collaboration

It’s easy to see how psychological safety in the workplace helps teams work together. In healthy teams, communication channels are open and trust can be felt at all times – employees are more willing to contribute to a unique idea or challenge an opinion when they know that doing so won’t impact relationships. Inclusivity and diversity also thrive because team members from various backgrounds feel safe to share their perspectives and contribute to the conversation.

Implications for leaders

What does all of this mean to us as leaders? Understanding the benefits psychological safety has for our people, we have an obligation to learn more about how to foster this in our workplaces. Several years ago, a close friend recommended I research the Psychological Safety certification with the Academy of Brain-based Leadership (ABL). The timing for me couldn’t have been better. It was mid-2021, the world was starting to breathe again after the upheaval of COVID, and I was coming off a hectic 18 months. 

Throughout the program, I learned about ABL’s S.A.F.E.T.Y.™ Model which describes six domains of threat or reward that are critical to our brain: Security, Autonomy, Fairness, Esteem, Trust, and You. I learned my primary S.A.F.E.T.Y.™ driver is autonomy and how that shows up for me every day. It reinforced my high need to be allowed to make my own decisions and to avoid being closely managed. It was enlightening. 

A workplace culture with strong psychological safety will enhance employee well-being and create a culture of innovation, collaboration, and engagement where individuals and teams will perform at their highest levels. It will support the retention of your strongest employees and be a powerful differentiator in your recruitment efforts. If you would like to learn more about your individual S.A.F.E.T.Y.™ profile or how to bring this learning to your workplace, please reach out.

Receive the latest news in your email