Fostering Psychological Safety in the Workplace

A McKinsey Global Survey concluded in 2020 confirms that only a handful of business leaders often demonstrate positive behaviours that foster a climate, termed psychological safety, in their workforce. It is the belief that one can speak up and share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of retribution, shame, or ostracism. With hallmark studies by Google establishing Psychological safety as a critical driver of high-quality decision making, healthy group dynamics and interpersonal relationships, and more effective execution in organisations, it begets the question of why teams are not investing more into fostering it?

It’s tough. 

In a workplace with high work demands, fostering psychological safety can be a challenge due to competing tasks, priorities and limited bandwidth. 

Enter “Quiet Quitting.” Chances are you’ve heard the trending term circulating the internet known as “quiet quitting” which refers to the phenomena of employees doing the minimum requirements of one’s job, and putting in no more time, effort or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary. Feeling unsafe to share their concerns and helpless against a system that works against them can cause employees to “quiet quit.” On the flipside, in Psychologically safe work climates, employees are unafraid to lobby for greater control in their way of working, support for career growth, and increased compensation. They will also feel comfortable raising concerns about organisational cultural dysfunctions trusting that their team and manager will protect them from blowback. 

When employees feel valued and respected, they are more likely to be engaged and satisfied with their jobs. This leads to increased employee retention, reduced absenteeism, and improved overall job satisfaction. In addition, building psychological safety in the workplace can help to reduce stress levels among employees. A safe work environment can help to reduce the risk of burnout and improve overall well-being. This can result in increased productivity and improved job satisfaction, as employees are less likely to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Creating a culture of psychological safety is not a one-time task, but rather a continuous effort that requires commitment from leaders and all members of the organisation. With much to be gained by building a psychologically safe workplace, here are some suggestions which organisations and individuals can partake in to play their part and contribute towards a workplace that prioritises mental health.

Practice active listening and create an atmosphere of trust and respect

A key indicator of a psychologically safe workplace is when employees are able to air their concerns. When privileged to be privy of their opinions, team members should practise active listening. This means avoiding the urge to multi-task such as replying to emails when speaking with them. Active listening also includes listening with an open mind, not to respond, but to understand. Upon having a deeper understanding of their concerns, you could offer support by asking them how they would like to be supported. This gives your team members a voice and encourages them to feel safe in airing their concerns. 

Build a workplace that nurtures personal development

Building a workplace that is psychologically safe can be achieved by highlighting strengths and creating opportunities for personal and professional development, and growth in a workplace with high work demands. When employees feel as though they are learning and growing in their careers, they are more likely to feel motivated and engaged in their work. Organisations can also offer opportunities for employees to attend training workshops, conferences, or courses that are relevant to their work and careers. Additionally, they can offer opportunities for employees to take on new projects or responsibilities that challenge and stretch their skills.

Create support systems 

Creating a supportive and inclusive workplace culture is also key to fostering psychological safety. In a workplace with high work demands, employees need to feel as though they are part of a team and that they have a support system. Innately social beings, humans  derive joy from building meaningful connections which can tide them through stressful times. Employers can create a supportive workplace culture by being intentional about encouraging collaboration and teamwork, offering opportunities for social events, and promoting a positive and inclusive workplace environment. Examples include scheduling non-work social events, celebrating diversity through cultural event experiences and more.

Take a zero-tolerance stance for bullying and discrimination

Managers can implement policies and procedures in place that address harassment, bullying, and discrimination, and that encourages employees to speak up if they experience any of these issues. It is important to address toxic behaviours in the workplace, such as bullying and harassment, as soon as they occur. This helps to create a safe work environment and reduce the likelihood of toxic behaviours occurring in the future.

Prioritise Work-Life Balance where possible

Another way to foster psychological safety is to prioritise work-life balance. In a workplace with high work demands, it is important for employees to feel as though their workload is manageable and that they have the time and energy to pursue other interests and relationships outside of work. Employers can encourage work-life balance by offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work, or flexible work arrangements. Additionally, managers should encourage employees to take breaks and prioritise their physical and mental health, especially due off seasons or after a particularly demanding project.

Recognise and celebrate strengths

Finally, it is important to provide recognition and rewards for hard work and achievements in a workplace with high work demands. When employees feel as though their hard work and achievements are recognised, they are more likely to feel motivated and engaged in their work. To highlight strengths, teams can intentionally identify successes and what behaviours and thoughts contributed to their wins monthly. Organisations can also offer monetary rewards, such as bonuses or salary increases, or non-monetary rewards, such as extra time off or opportunities for professional development. Combined, these can help to build morale and foster a positive workplace culture.

In conclusion, fostering psychological safety in a workplace with high work demands is crucial for employees to feel valued and supported, and to increase job satisfaction and productivity. Clear and open communication, prioritising work-life balance, providing opportunities for professional development and growth, creating a supportive and inclusive workplace culture, and providing recognition and rewards for hard work and achievements are all important ways to foster psychological safety in a high-demand workplace. Implementing these changes creates a landscape that recognises and values the diverse perspectives and experiences of team members, encouraging open communication, providing support and resources for well-being and addressing any potential threats to safety in a timely and effective manner. By prioritising psychological safety, employers can ensure that employees feel motivated, engaged in their work and work effectively as a team.

For more articles, check out The Other Clinic’s “Notebook”, where our clinicians share thoughts and ideas on a variety of wellness topics.