Health & Wellness

What Does a Psychologically Safe Workplace Look Like?

By Preet Pall on October, 5 2021
4 minute read

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At its core, a psychologically safe workplace is one where employees feel that they can share their opinions and make mistakes without fear of punishment. Such a workplace allows people to perform at their best. They take moderate risks, speak more freely, and are more creative in their work. Study after study has shown that the best performing teams are the ones that emphasize psychological safety.


These work environments are hard to cultivate and easy to spoil. They are built on trust, which takes time to grow naturally. When it does, it nourishes every aspect of the workplace and allows employees to blossom to their full potential. Maintenance requires frequent check-ins and open discussions about anything that makes team members feel uncomfortable. Psychologically safe workplaces begin to wilt when negative emotions are allowed to fester beneath the surface. 

In this article, we’ll share with you the foundational aspects of developing a psychologically safe workplace and how you can make your organization one where employees feel encouraged to perform at their best.


How to Cultivate a Psychologically Safe Workplace

As we mentioned, psychological safety grows in proportion to the trust that employees feel. Trust that they can take risks, trust that they can voice concerns, trust that they are respected and valued. Here’s how team leaders can build a trusting environment. 


Be Open to Feedback

Leaders carry the weighty burden of demonstrating what a psychologically safe workplace looks like. Allowing team members to offer constructive feedback to their managers reinforces the fact that the workplace is one where everyone is allowed to share their ideas and opinions. 

A workplace where managers are sensitive to suggestions becomes tense. Employees are hesitant to speak out when a problem arises, fearing that their manager may construe it as a personal slight against them. Left unchecked, tension and negativity will grow under the surface and lead to poor productivity and decreased job satisfaction, problems that can be avoided when managers are open to advice and feedback.


Allow Employees to Make Mistakes

One of the most freeing parts of a psychologically safe work environment is being able to make mistakes. Nobody is perfect and even the best employee on their best day is liable to make an error. It’s the way humans are. And typically, when a mistake is made, nobody is harder on themselves than the person who made it. Adding further fuel to that flame will make the employee question their abilities, their role in the team, and whether they truly belong there. Probably not the way you want your employees to feel.

Rather than punish employees for making mistakes, reinforce that such errors are essential to growth. Not only will employees feel supported, they’ll feel empowered to push their limits and grow, unafraid of what will happen if they make a mistake along the way. 



Help Employees Meet Their Needs

Plenty has been said about how the past year changed employees’ view of their work and working needs.  The key is to actively listen to your employees and do your best to support them, whether that’s through adjusted work schedules, office accommodations, or time off. If many employees voice concerns about returning to the office full-time, forcing them back to the office isn’t going to be conducive to creating a psychologically safe workplace. But neither is making employees, who miss the camaraderie of an office, work from home everyday. 

You may not be able to meet every need your employees have. Some you may only be able to partially support. It won’t always be about providing exactly what an employee is asking for. Showing that you care, listen, and will do your best to meet their needs can often be enough. 


Foster Support Between Co-Workers

When everyone feels safe and comfortable in their work environment, employees are often able to support one another without turning to their managers for help. When problems arise within the team they are able to speak openly and respectfully, resolving issues as quickly and further strengthening the trust within the team. 


Psychological Safety in a Hybrid Work Environment

In the past managers assumed that the personal and the professional could be separated. Issues such as child care and financial worries were to be left on the morning commute and not discussed at work. The transition to a work from home model—where managers and employees are stared into each other’s living rooms, spare bedrooms, and kitchens—shattered the illusion that the employees live parallel lives, one at work and one at home. What keeps them up at night also keeps them from focusing on their daily work.

Employers have found that a key part of cultivating psychological safety in remote work environments is being willing to have candid conversations about the personal stress in employee’s lives. They’re not making employees disclose anything they aren’t comfortable with, rather they’re making it known that if an employee has needs that fall outside the “traditional” scope of the employee-employer relationship, such as needing time to care for their children or mental health support as they care for a sick family member, that the door is always open to talk and the company will do their best to meet these requests.



Final Thoughts

Putting in the effort to create a psychologically safe workplace comes with great benefits. Employees are more productive, happier, and more likely to recommend your business to their network. You become an employer of choice. The hardest part is knowing where to start, which techniques hurt and help you meet your goals. Now that you’ve read this blog, hopefully you can evaluate your current work environment and see where you can promote openness and safety within your business. 

Mental Health In The Workplace Whitepaper

Mental health in the workplace is a top priority for organizations. Learn how a psychologically safe workplace helps businesses.