“Happy wife, happy life” or so the old-fashioned saying goes but this mantra can also ring true at  your place of work. Happy employees make for a positive workplace culture and psychological safety is a great way to keep your employees happy which in turn keeps productivity high and worker turnover low. 

What is psychological safety? 

Back in 1990 William A. Kahn published a paper in the Academy of Management Journal where he tackled the conditions of personal engagement in the workplace. In this paper he described psychological safety as “being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.” 

Even though the term may feel like a loaded one, it isn’t as complicated as you might think. It took almost a decade for the term to become more prevalent with the help of Harvard Business School’s Amy C. Edmondson. She defined psychological safety as the ability to “feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.

When an employee feels respected and accepted at their place of work or within their team, their engagement at work increases thus yielding all-round positive outcomes for the company including: 

  • Improvement in innovation and processes
  • A boost in employee engagement
  • It helps team members learn from each others’ mistakes

So how do you go about fostering psychological safety at your place of work? 

Two women smiling and chatting at the workplace. Positivity.

Curiosity? Yes please!

Asking questions and being inquisitive should be encouraged. Help your employees feel assured when they ask legitimate questions. Make this a dialogue! A conversation will create greater agency and will allow teams to be more solutions-oriented. 

Challenge the status quo

‘We do things a certain way because that is the way they have always been done’ is a great way to get stuck in a rut and shut down any form of innovation or communication from your employees or team members. As with the point above, creating such conversation blockers will immediately diminish the psychological safety of your team members and decrease their engagement. 

office space, punch today in the face, motivation, work environment

Don’t be scared to be vulnerable

This is probably one of the things leaders struggle with most because many somehow think that ‘strong leaders’ should never show vulnerability. The opposite is in fact true. A good leader will own up to their mistakes and take ownership of these mistakes publicly. This fosters a culture of openness where team members can talk about any errors without any shame or fear. 

Do not punish mistakes

Continuing from the previous point, we are all human and we are all prone to making mistakes. Make sure your team members know this and that there is no such thing as a mistake if some form of learning is brought about by that mistake. Failures will always happen, and the way you deal with them will have a great impact on how your team sees you as a leader. 

Establish clear goals

Having realistic goals, KPIs, OKRs associated with someone’s role will help with establishing accountability. This way each team member knows what they are tasked with and can better work together towards achieving this. Just make sure these goals aren’t the be all and end all. Whilst structure is good, limiting an employee’s work to just delivering on their own goals may create barriers to teamwork.

To conclude

In a world where everyone strives to be accepted as the person they truly are there is no better perk to give your employees than to make them feel accepted and most of all respected. Forget the pinball machines, the free snacks and the annual holiday event abroad. Yes, these are nice perks to have, but no employee is going to be a high performance player, or even stay with your company, if they don’t feel like they have a voice and that their voice has meaning.