From the Blog

How to Create Psychological Safety at Work

It’s clear that employees at an inclusive workplace are more engaged, more productive and less likely to leave. And that inclusion in the workplace requires communication, collaboration and access to opportunities so people can reach their full potential.

But how do you help employees feel like they, as individuals, truly belong at your organization? Focus on creating psychological safety at work.

What is psychological safety at work?

Psychological safety at work means your team is unafraid that their authentic selves will be at odds with company culture. Employees are comfortable bringing their whole selves to work and taking risks that drive innovation.

The less an employee feels they have to put on their “employee hat,” the more engaged and productive they’ll be. Shifting between a professional and personal self can affect employee well-being and lead to burnout. Reducing that shift helps your team focus on work. 

Psychological safety in the workplace means belonging

Inclusion efforts rightfully have been focused on creating fair, respectful work environments. But leading employers also understand how a sense of belonging contributes to organizational performance and goals, according to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report. In fact, the report says, belonging is one of the most important human capital issues — and one that many organizations are unprepared for:

  • 79% of organizations say fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce is important or very important for their success over the next 12 to 18 months
  • 93% agreed that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance
  • Only 13% say they are very ready to address this trend

The report explains that belonging has become a top organizational priority in part because the world seems less stable and more politically polarized. Meanwhile, people are working more hours than ever. So employees are expecting more from their work than a paycheck — they are looking for an overall sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that includes belonging.

What belonging looks like

If your employees feel a sense of dread when they’re heading into the office or logging on for the day, that’s the inverse of belonging. A sense of belonging at work is the intersection of three key attributes, according to the Deloitte report: comfort, connection and contribution. The more you can create a space where every employee can be seen as a valuable contributor to organizational success, the better. 

Employees want to feel comfortable as individuals as well as connected to their colleagues and teams. They also want to feel like valuable contributors to organizational success.

And with so many employees working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever to be as deliberate as you can with efforts to include your team.

5 Ways to create psychological safety at work 

Here are a few things managers can do to reinforce inclusion efforts and encourage a sense of belonging among employees:

1. Set an example as a leader

Managers can hold themselves to a higher standard of openness and positivity. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge mistakes in front of your team. It shows humility and vulnerability that will make others feel comfortable making mistakes as well. Everyone is human, and no one is perfect. Giving praise also will set a tone of positivity within your team. 

2. Express yourself, and encourage others to do the same

Help others get to know you by taking the first step toward connection. Expressing yourself can be as easy as updating your profile on your organization’s social page or sharing a quick personal story during a meeting. These moments tell your team it’s OK to do the same and makes for a more personal, and more genuine, inclusive work environment.

3. Prioritize active listening 

Meetings are times to model ideal behavior for everyone on your team. Leave your phone in another room and make eye contact while colleagues are speaking to show they are being listened to. If some team members don’t usually speak up, find ways to bring them into the conversation. Make it less about shaming their silence and more about wanting to know what they think. Creating an environment where employees feel able to express their views and opinions encourages meaningful collaboration.

4. Recognize each employee’s individual value

Make note of individual contributions to the team and organization, and share them during your 1:1 meetings. Even better, acknowledge employees’ unique ideas during meetings. This sends a message that you see and value what each employee brings to the table. It’s crucial for employees to feel their perspectives and voice are not only heard, but also respected and valued.

5. Make it OK to take risks

Before there’s creativity and innovation in the workplace, there’s risk. You can’t move forward if you don’t have a few “bad” ideas to make space for the better ones. Encourage an environment of positive response to someone’s negative thoughts about their own work. Employees who feel psychologically safe to speak up and take risks help other employees learn and potentially generate new ideas or insights. When employees are in an environment that will support them even in the face of failure, that’s a sense of belonging that lets them do their best work.

Leaders, managers and employees have the opportunity to create a sense of belonging and psychological safety at work. This not only will ensure your employees feel respected, appreciated and that they’re treated fairly, but it will also benefit your business.