Psychological Safety in the Workplace
- Have you ever had the feeling that you couldn’t speak your truth for the fear of being judged or ridiculed?
- Have you ever felt that you were not included in team conversations and decisions?
- Have you felt that enough learning opportunities were not given to you at work?
- Have you felt that at work there is a more efficient way to do things yet you are unable to express yourself?
If you have said yes to the above questions at least 2 times, you are working in an environment that has poor psychological safety and is perhaps toxic too.
From an evolution development stand point, each time you get reprimanded or your presentation/idea is rejected, a peer doesn’t share information, it will trigger the amygdala in our brain. It is that part of our brain that is involved in fear and panic. This part makes you either freeze or fight. It screams at you “act first think later” making you run or react aggressively. At those moments when we need our sensibilities the most, we lose them. There is always a place for fight and flight in out life. This impacts organisations by crippling strategic thinking, creativity and innovation in teams and individuals.
Individual spend 80 percent of their waking hours at work and hence their feelings and clarity directly impact their performance and productivity. Feeling of psychological safety is when employees thrive and use their competencies & deliver full potential. In such environment each team member takes care of the others mental health as much as that person would take care of himself/herself.
High Performing Teams need Psychological Safety
All high performing teams have one thing in common as per Harvard business review – Psychological safety. At the work place, it is the shared belief that it is safe to express one self and take interpersonal risk to ask questions, challenge the status quo without the fear of being ridiculed, punished or marginalised.
When organisational culture supports psychological safety, employees start to thrive in that environment. Such culture motivates employees to be vulnerable and accept mistakes to learn. The same leads to strong foundation in collective success of teams by developing trust. Such cohesive teams are high on innovations and delivering collective results repeatedly. Such environment helps individuals to release oxytocin in the brain and make them feel the nurturing and give their best performance. Due to simultaneous release of serotonin, positive emotions like happiness and engagement are evident in day-to-day interactions.
When leaders are emotionally safe leaders, they are vulnerable and build trust. They act with situational humility and admit mistakes. Although they are high on self-concept, they are low on perfect answers.
Psychologically Safe Workplace can be built step wise –
Stage 1: Inclusion safety – the ability to feel included and belonged to a work force community
Stage 2: Learner safety – the ability to feel safe to learn, ask questions and be fearless to admit I don’t know.
Stage 3: Contributor safety – the ability to willingly share ideas and individuality without the fear of being punished or ridiculed, ability to speak up
Stage 4: Challenger safety – the ability to challenge the current processes & methodologies, allowing to explore improvements by allowing innovations of daily life. Encouraging the pursuit of the best possible solution
At Mind Celebrations we recommend a holistic 360 approach to psychological safety we believe in an integration of three pillars.
When employees take responsibility of their mental health preventively proactively building their positive mental health like muscle, learn and practice tools to emotional fitness, maintain digitally hygiene and refuel their energy levels, they carve their personal road to emotional safety.
When leaders practice qualities of being emotionally safe leaders they strengthen the team cohesiveness & accountability to results and how the results were achieved too. Leaders need to eliminate and reduce behaviours that take emotional safety away from their daily acts and activities. Simultaneously investing time in creating & raising the set of acts and activities that adds to emotional safety of teams. Such teams build psychologically safe environment & achieve their strategic objectives consistently. For e.g., when in a conflicting situation, don’t avoid or get defensive, replace blame with curiosity, breathe deeply accept a mistake and commit to a productive conflict. It is the pursuit of a solution, or a conducive /best outcome for all involved.
Leaders at work are kingpins that stand for humanness and empathy. Leaders need to continuously work on their unconscious biases. They spread the infectious positivity much needed in high performing teams. When they create a culture of asking feedback regularly, they model situational humility and both courage to change.
Organisational culture that nurtures these 4 stages gives meaning, autonomy, growth, impact and connection to all employees, thus creating belongingness and enhancing the employee experience. Today, customer experience is directly proportional to the employee experience in customer interfacing businesses.
We at Mind Celebrations believe that those organisations that are open to measure their current levels of psychological safety, plug the gaps, build and prepare for this proactively will perform better in current volatile & uncertain business environment. It brings in higher engagement & performance from their teams.
Dr Kanan Khatau & Gurdarshan Singh, authors of this article are Co-Founders of Mind Celebrations, a pioneering preventive Mental Healthcare initiative for organizations and their employees. To know more about Mind Celebrations, visit www.mindcelebrations.com and take your preventive mental health assessments today. They offer customised Employee Assistance Programs and Employee Counselling for organizations.