There are many different key focusses for HR strategies today, but at their heart, they all endeavour to create a work environment that’s synonymous with engaged, productive and most importantly, happy people.
Emerging as one of the most prevalent terms in today’s workplace is psychological safety. The term has been around since 1999, when Dr. Amy Edmondson of Harvard University published her studies where she proposed that regardless of its makeup, a team’s success will largely come down to whether its members have “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”
So, what does this mean? The brain processes any form of risk as a life-or-death threat which triggers the fight-flight-freeze response. Whilst this primal response to danger is crucial to our survival in the case of life-threatening situations, it also occurs in situations where there is a ‘perceived’ threat.
In today’s society, perceived threats are vast and varied and are dependent on the individual’s experiences and values. It can be anything from a messy room, someone cutting us up at a roundabout, unkindness, or an imposed tight deadline.
But why is this important in today’s workplace? When we are in our threat response, our brain focuses purely on survival. It shuts down perspective and analytical reasoning and inhibits the creative and innovative thinking needed in today’s workplace. Moreover, if we are constantly in a stressed threat response, it can cause long-term physical and mental health issues. It takes up a lot of emotional energy to be in this state.
Take a moment to think, where are you most comfortable? At home with your loved ones? Maybe it’s out for a walk with your dog? And think also, where do you have some of your best ideas? We pose this question all the time in training sessions and the answer is always consistent. It’s where we are relaxed and comfortable; in the car, listening to music, on the sofa, in the shower, out for a walk. It’s where we feel emotionally safe.
So, from the biology of our threat response alone, the benefits of replicating a psychologically safe environment and culture in the workplace are obvious; it results in a more innovative, creative workforce, critically with an increased likelihood of successful innovation, through intelligent risk taking and lower fear of failure. But the benefits don’t stop there; research shows an increase in team performance, adaptability, retention, reputation and reduced absenteeism. Employees feel valued, listened to, and typically choose to ‘go the extra mile’.
To create this condition, there needs to be an openness to sharing and hearing new ideas and perspectives and trying new things whilst learning from mistakes; an ability to discuss difficult issues and problems; a culture of collaboration and respect for different approaches and strengths; and an ability to speak out against injustices and campaign for change. In a psychologically safe environment, it’s not just okay to speak up with questions, concerns, ideas and mistakes, it’s expected.
Ready to make a difference?
Creating this environment won’t happen overnight, trust is built over time and through the actions and behaviours of every single employee. It must therefore, form part of your core business values and be lived every day.
To help nurture and promote psychological safety leaders must be engaged and at the forefront of modelling the behaviours they want to see from their team.
Shape your future business.
A major investigation carried out by Google, titled Project Aristotle, identified the greatest impactors on team performance. Above the many dimensions that impact a team, the single most important factor driving team success was found to be psychological safety.
Here’s some tips for creating a psychologically safe workplace:
- Show empathy when listening to others, be genuine, open-minded and compassionate
- Gather input from the whole team before making decisions and facilitate everyone having a voice
- Admit when mistakes are made and look for the learnings, then celebrate these as ways to innovate for the future
- Counteract negative attitudes with constructive thoughts, work to resolve any conflicts quickly and productively
- Onboard and welcome new employees to set the tone of your company climate from the start
- Treat everyone equally, have a diverse and inclusive culture where employees embrace individuality
- Give employees job autonomy and the room to grow, learn and thrive
In summary, psychological safety is not just the right thing to do, it’s a strategic imperative and the foundation for the future.
Find out how we can help.