Benefits of Psychological Safe Work Environment

Creating psychologically safe work environments is critical to support high-performing teams and organisations. When employees can bring their best selves to work, the result is a safer and more productive environment.

The term psychological safety was coined by professor Amy Edmondson. She defines psychological safety as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Establishing a climate of psychological safety allows space for people to speak up and share their innovative ideas and suggestions

When it comes to creating psychologically safe environments, establishing norms and standards is critical to success and active participation. For managers and leaders, speaking out is actually less important than how we react and respond to other team members.

The WHS Act defines ‘health’ as including both physical and psychological health.When psychosocial hazards and risks at work are not effectively managed, this may increase the risk of work-related psychological and physical injuries, incidents and errors. Therefore, it may be helpful when assessing the risk of musculoskeletal and traumatic injury to consider the psychosocial hazards and risks and controls.

Ensuring a systematic process to manage psychosocial hazards and risks helps the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) and duty holder meets their WHS responsibilities. It also decreases organisational disruptions and costs resulting from work-related harm and may improve WHS and broader organisational performance and productivity.

The tangible benefits of building psychological safety in your organisation range from improved innovation, better ideas, and products that excite your customers, to reduced risk of failures, breaches, and non-compliance.

An effective team and organisation value psychological safety as much as they do physical safety and performance standards. Below are a few key benefits of a psychological safe work environment:

1. Enhancing team engagement When team members feel safe at work, it’s easier for them to engage and contribute. This could be in a team meeting, troubleshooting, project collaboration, and engaging with their customers and peers.

2. Inspires creativity and ideas You won’t hear ideas unless people feel safe enough to say them out loud. Increasing psychological safety increases the likelihood of successful innovation, through intelligent risk-taking and lower fear of failure resulting in quicker time-to-market and improved products and services.

3. Increased team performance. When you’ve got highly engaged employees that don’t want to leave, teams deliver. When you have physical and psychologically safe and healthy employees, you’ve got a winning recipe for boosting team performance.

4. Fosters an inclusive workplace culture. Inclusion and Diversity are key to unlocking the potential of people and organisations through generating ideas, solving problems, and ensuring that everyone benefits from the products and services we create, as well as reducing harm. But without psychological safety, people cannot feel included, and if people do not feel included, then diversity is simply performative, or worse, enforced. T An inclusive work environment allows all team members to flourish regardless of gender, colour, race, background, or political preferences. The result is a rich give-and-take experience where everyone feels connected and part of a united front.

5. Better Health, Safety and Wellbeing Improved psychological safety results in a higher likelihood of proper reporting of concerns and wellbeing issues, resulting in decreased risk of health, safety and well-being or non-compliance incidents.

Creating a psychologically safe work environment starts with adopting and coaching focused on behaviour change. Changing cultural norms requires progressive learning by everyone in the organisation. To establish and maintain a psychologically safe work environment, leaders must consistently model inclusive behaviours in order to build out new team norms over the time.

Here are a few tips to foster psychological safety in your workplace:

1. Practice active listening Ask team members to weigh in with their thoughts and expertise. This is especially important to practice at times in which their opinions may challenge your thinking. Dive deep, ask questions, and ask for feedback from other team members too. Active listening ensures people feel valued and that they can contribute to the team. Ideas to improve active listening include:

  • Leave phones at the door or desk during meetings
  • Respect all team members irrespective of their roles
  • Show understanding by repeating what was said
  • Encourage people to share more by asking questions
  • If certain individuals rarely speak during meetings, actively ask them for their opinion

2. Lead by example Anyone in a position of responsibility should set an example for the rest of the company by demonstrating visible leadership and “Walk the talk”. This is applicable from senior management, down to team leads and managers. Below are a few tips to promote visible leadership:

  • Ask for upward feedback
  • Acknowledge your mistakes
  • Be open to opinions that differ from your own
  • Be approachable and encourage reports to ask questions

3. Foster an open conversation Pay attention to how teams operate. Use ice breakers and calm environments to quickly get over any awkwardness or tension. Consider having team-building activities, outings or virtual hangouts so team members can feel free to let their guard down and be themselves. This is also a great time to get to know each other on a deeper level. Below are a few tips to develop an open mindset at the workplace:

  • Encourage teams to share feedback with one another
  • Help team members learn how to respond to input from others
  • Encourage teams and individuals to see feedback as a way to strengthen and build upon their ideas and processes.

4. Empower your team members: If you’re someone who isn’t underrepresented in your company, make efforts to leverage your privilege to empower u your team members. Delegate projects and tasks to team members and give them authority over specific projects. This gives them a sense of value within the organisation. Give your teammembers the amount of authority they need to complete the project without checking back with you on every detail.

Every employee, regardless of their position in their organisation, can and should show leadership in this area by supporting and encouraging respectful behaviours that build stronger, more flexible and more welcoming workplaces. While the benefits of psychological safety are well established, leaders by developing specific skills can create a safer and higher-performance work environment.

A positive team environment is the most important driver of psychological safety and is most likely to occur when leaders demonstrate supportive, consultative behaviours, and then begin to challenge their teams.

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