Psychological safety is critical to workplace success

Do employees feel safe to speak up? If not, motivation, productivity and innovation go down

When people feel like they can speak up at work without being marginalized, reprimanded, or humiliated, experts say productivity and job satisfaction increase.

Why? Employees in these types of organizations feel a strong sense of psychological safety – the security people have when they feel included, safe to learn, safe to contribute and safe to challenge the status quo.

When employees fear retaliation or humiliation at work, the effects on the employee and the organization are costly. Here are the findings from a recent survey on the effects of low psychological safety:

  • 1 in 2 respondents intentionally decreased their work effort
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work
  • 4 out of 5 said their commitment to the organization declined
  • 12% said they left their jobs
  • 1 in 4 respondents reported taking their frustrations out on customers

How can managers and leaders create a psychologically safe workplace? In his book The Four Stages of Psychological Safety, leadership expert Timothy R. Clark says the first step is ensuring the environment is inclusive. Acceptance and belonging are basic human needs and are the foundation for psychological safety, allowing organizations to move on to the next three stages – learning, contributing and challenging. Three ways to create inclusion are:

  1. Invite. Always try to include as many people as possible, especially new individuals in your department, social groups, and other groups.
  2. Ask. Sincerely ask people about themselves. Inquire about their backgrounds and their interests. 
  3. Share. Let people know about you. Sharing your background, your ideas, your opinions – even if different from others – will help to build trust and establish a relationship.

The more familiar people become with each other, both in a professional and personal setting, the more psychological safety can thrive. The safer everyone feels, the better the wellbeing of the employees and the company. 

What makes people feel psychologically unsafe at work?

  • Feeling excluded
  • Feeling afraid to ask a question
  • Having someone steal credit for something you did
  • Being ignored in a discussion
  • Being interrupted rudely in a meeting
  • Being publicly shamed
  • Facing retaliation for a mistake
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