There are times when we hesitate to voice our opinions, share our ideas, or admit our mistakes at work. It happens to the best of us. Recent overview of the American workforce found that 41% of all vice presidents believe they are not qualified to handle their job responsibilities. So, if you find yourself second-guessing yourself at work, you shouldn’t worry too much about it. In fact, a healthy dose of self-doubt can even make you a better employee.
But what if you’re unable to communicate at work because you think you’d be laughed at or brutally shut down in front of your coworkers? That’s a different story, which is why career experts everywhere are talking about making workplaces “psychologically safe.”
What is psychological safety?
Psychological safety is the implicit trust within a group that saying what a member really wants to say, provided it is constructive and helpful in the larger scheme, is a risk-free action. There is no fear of being ridiculed or humiliated or fired for speaking your mind in a workplace that protects the psychological safety of its employees.
The simplest way to understand why the concept of psychological safety is important is to consider two hypothetical scenarios:
- A workplace with psychological safety. Imagine you’ve heard some bad news through the grapevine. Despite all the hard work you and your team put in, a client is unhappy with the work your team delivers. You share it openly and even though it’s not a pleasant conversation with your boss and co-workers, you put your heads together to come up with a plan to proactively deal with the customer.
- A workplace without psychological safety. You’ve heard something similar, but choose not to share it with your team because you’re afraid that the bearer of bad news might cause your boss (or coworkers) to lose their temper with you. You decide not to share it and the team takes no proactive corrective action. Eventually your team loses the account.
Why is everyone talking about psychological safety?
A 2023 paper was published on Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior it gives us an idea why something that seems like it should enter every organization is suddenly in the public consciousness.
The review suggests that psychological safety has become more important as a result of the rapid shift to remote and hybrid work arrangements during and after the pandemic. Working from home or in dispersed teams poses new challenges for communication, collaboration and coordination, which require high levels of trust and psychological safety. In addition, telecommuting can exacerbate feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety among employees, which can undermine their well-being and engagement.
Given how important the concept is in today’s rapidly changing workplace, it is vital to work for an organization that, explicitly or implicitly, supports a culture of psychological safety.
How do you know if your workplace is psychologically safe?
There are seven questions you can ask yourself to assess the level of psychological safety in your workplace, based on which research:
- If you make a mistake in your team, are you given supportive, helpful and constructive feedback?
- Are you able to report problems and difficult issues?
- Do people in the group welcome the opinions and thoughts of others, even if they differ from their own?
- Are you comfortable taking risks at work?
- Is it easy to ask other team members for help?
- Do people on the team openly praise your efforts?
- Are your unique skills and talents valued and used?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, you probably work in a psychologically safe environment. If you answered no to most of these, you may face some challenges in expressing yourself, learning from feedback, and working with others. In this case, you may want to look for ways to improve the climate of psychological safety in your team or organization, or consider finding a more supportive workplace.
While much of the responsibility for making a workplace psychologically safe for its employees rests in the hands of management, understand that it takes effort from everyone in your work environment to make a change. If you want to make your workplace psychologically safer, start the conversation by setting a good example and encouraging others to do the same.
Want to know if your workplace is a psychologically safe environment for you? Take this test to find out: The Psychological Safety Scale