Why Psychological Safety Matters

Why Psychological Safety Matters

Workplace safety has been a serious concern since the industrial revolution prompted workers to form unions and demand better and safer working conditions. Because risks to physical safety were typically industry specific, industries developed regulations independent of each other, and unions rose to prominence to focus on enforcing those regulations.

In 1970, the U.S. passed the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act to pass, regulate, and maintain standards and regulations, so physical safety has been a top priority for organizations for many decades. However, the same can’t be said for psychological safety, which we’re examining today.

Workplace Safety and Wellness 

As mentioned above, organizations across the country place a high priority on physical safety as evidenced by regularly scheduled safety meetings and well-defined measurable safety practices. Recently, there has also been a greater emphasis on wellness in terms of how we practice healthy habits to enjoy better physical and mental health.

However, the most significant contributor to workplace safety and wellness—known as psychological safety—has yet to be fully addressed. This is because the concept of psychological safety is too often thought to be some kind of touchy-feely idea that doesn’t contribute to an organization’s bottom line.

Unfortunately, this belief is sadly misguided and is regularly contributing to low employee engagement scores, undesirable turnover, and apathetic workers who turn to unions who they believe will force their employers to make them feel psychologically safe.

What is Psychological Safety

So, what exactly is psychological safety and why does it matter? In its simplest form, psychological safety is what an employee believes is true about their workplace that inspires them to be the best employee they can possibly be—with the best interests of their employer and their employer’s customers in mind.

This belief is established when the day-to-day environment in the workplace reflects the four stages that humans progress through in order to be fully invested. These stages are outlined below.  

  • When an employee, in any job and at any level in any organization, believes they matter and they belong, they feel included and safe to be themselves. 
  • When this employee believes it’s safe to ask questions, give and accept feedback, and make honest mistakes they can learn from, they feel safe to learn.
  • When this employee believes their skills and abilities matter by the way they receive acknowledgement and recognition, they feel safe as a valuable contributor.
  • And when this employee believes it’s their responsibility to look for ways to make everything better, they feel safe in speaking up and challenging the status quo with facts and data because they see an opportunity for improvement.

How Managers Can Support A Psychologically Safe Workplace

Effective managers know how to manage and lead. This dual skill set  is instrumental in creating a workplace where employees feel psychologically safe and driven to support their organization’s mission and values. These manager-leaders understand that all four phases of psychological safety create an integrated system that inspires and motivates the workforce. They know they must:  

  • Show employees how important they are by responding to what they hear.
  • Encourage employees to ask questions and provide honest and meaningful responses that make sense to the employees work and life experiences.
  • Invite and train employees to participate in process improvement activities and encourage them to challenge the status quo.

Creating a culture that emphasizes psychological safety increases employee retention, reduces employee turnover, decreases physical safety incidents, increases employee engagement, strengthens teamwork and innovation, and inspires each employee to be the best contributor they can. That’s why organizations must prioritize psychological safety as much as they do physical safety—and why partners like IRI, who are well-versed in the ins and outs of workplace safety, can be helpful in making this happen. 

At IRI, we are experts in leadership development, employee training, organizational communication and organizational development. We use this expertise to regularly help organizations develop and implement engaging and personalized programs to maintain and elevate company performance. If you’re interested in upleveling your organizational development strategies, contact us today to discuss the next steps, give us a call at (313) 965-0350.