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The Importance of Psychological Safety in the Workplace and How to Build It

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August 22, 2022

4 Minutes


     Dina Adlouni

Dina is the resident Content Writer at EcoOnline North America . When she’s not writing about health and safety, you’ll find her enjoying a cup of tea while watching her favorite sitcom.

What is Psychological Safety?

The term ‘psychological safety’ refers to the notion that people feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions without the fear of being reprimanded. It was first conceived by Dr. Amy Edmondson, a professor at the Harvard Business School. 

Employees must feel secure in their positions at work and empowered to ask questions and express opinions when they feel inclined to. In high-risk industries this is critical, as the health and safety of all team members is highly dependent on one another.  

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The Benefits of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety starts with the employer, who must create this sense of comfort among team members. This is vital to an organization as it can help create a stronger safety culture, where employees feel more responsible for protecting one another. 

The benefits of psychological safety in high-risk industries include: 

  • A greater chance of uncovering the root cause analysis of incidents and injuries to more effectively mitigate risks, with greater insight into the employee’s perspective
  • Higher employee engagement and participation  
  • Greater investment in safety and sense of accountability when it comes to the safety of others 

According to a study conducted by Google, psychological safety was the number one factor when it came to high-performing teams. This is because employees felt comfortable enough to give feedback and take initiative. It has also been found that when people feel a sense of psychological safety, they are more creative, motivated, and inclined to solve problems  

It comes as no surprise that teams in high-risk industries where psychological safety is felt, would be more inclined to report instances of unsafe practices. This will in turn help to catch unsafe practices or conditions early, to create a safer workplace. Higher participation and engagement in safety among team members will also follow, as well as the sense of responsibility for protecting one another.   

How to Create Psychological Safety

Leaders at an organization are responsible for empowering their team and building psychological safety. Here are some of the ways this can be done:  

1. Encourage two-way communication as equals

One of the most important ways team members can feel safe and valued is through two-way communication as equals. It is fundamental to see people for the human beings they are, rather than just people who work for the company. Remember, they have their own work and learning styles, beliefs, and personal lives.  

Keeping this in mind when you communicate is key. This will help you lead with a sense of compassion and understanding rather than apathy. You must also encourage feedback from team members and a continuous dialogue where their opinions are valued. This will encourage them to speak their minds and share their thoughts and observations more often.  

2. Executing impactful feedback received and involving people in decision making

Employees will know you are taking what they say into consideration when their feedback is implemented and put into action. Where possible, execute impactful feedback received which will ultimately help to create a safer workplace. 

Involving team members in the decision-making process can also help to build a greater sense of psychological safety. Employers can explain the reasoning behind certain decisions and encourage feedback from team members. Trust will be built between members where they feel more invested in the outcome of certain elements within the organization. This investment will make them more inclined to participate in improving safety processes and practices going forward.  

3. Finding coaching opportunities whenever possible instead of punishment

Cultivating psychological safety is best done when leaders take the opportunity to coach team members on how they can do things differently, rather than punishing them for their actions. This will help them feel more secure in the workplace as they will not be afraid to make mistakes. It’s also very important to avoid creating an expectation of zero incidents on-site. This is not realistic and will only increase instances of underreporting.  

When incidents or situations do take place, ask the employee why the event occurred and understand it from their perspective. Then work towards a solution together, rather than enforcing a certain course of action for them to follow. When you come up with a solution together, employees will feel more involved and inclined to implement it in the future.  

In the End…

Psychological safety is a critical part of a successful and safe work environment. Leaders and team members must work together to execute initiatives and reach objectives, and what better way to do this than knowing the people you work with trust you and value you. This will lead to greater success as an organization and will motivate more employees to stay for the long-term.  

Curious to learn how the EcoOnline suite of solutions can also help you create a safer work environment where more people are protected? Speak to one of our EcoOnline representatives today 

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