In a post-pandemic workplace, the concept of psychological safety has come to the forefront as organizations realize the need to address uncertainties and new stresses facing employees, whether they are onsite, virtual or in a hybrid environment. A recent survey of more than 3,000 US workers found that only 26% felt psychologically safe during the pandemic and experienced higher levels of burnout, stress and greater feelings of loneliness.
What is psychological safety?
A psychologically safe workplace is one in which employees feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of being criticized, threatened or punished for speaking up and taking interpersonal risks — such as contributing ideas, making suggestions, asking for help, owning up to a mistake or voicing an opposing opinion.
Organizations that foster psychological safety and trust can benefit from better team performance and innovation, improved employee mental health and well-being and reduced burnout and turnover.
As part of an ongoing process, psychological safety training is an effective tool to help organizations create and maintain a climate of emotional and psychological safety in which team members:
- Practice active listening
The 3 A’s of active listening are attention, attitude and adjustment. Listening effectively means being focused and attentive on what someone’s saying and avoiding distractions, like texts and phones. It’s also having an open mind and positive attitude going into a conversation, and being willing to change and adapt to the speaker’s train of thought, without judging.
- Assume the best
In a psychologically safe environment, people give team members the benefit of the doubt when interactions take a wrong turn, rather than jump to conclusions and engage in personal attacks.
- Demonstrate empathy and compassion
Expressing empathy doesn’t mean agreeing with someone; it’s making the effort to understand what they may be going through. Showing empathy and compassion is one of the most effective ways to counter feelings of isolation and foster a sense of belonging.
- Recognize the good work of team members
When employees feel recognized and valued for their contributions, it builds emotional and psychological security, which can be a powerful motivator. And experts say that recognition can be as simple as saying ‘thank you.’
- Acknowledge mistakes
Managers can show the organization is serious about psychological safety through their own behaviors. Owning up to their mistakes, shortcomings and limitations demonstrates that it’s safe for everyone to acknowledge their challenges and vulnerability.
- Make interactions inclusive
Being inclusive involves more than simply inviting people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to participate. The details and logistics, such as when, where and how a meeting or event takes place affect inclusivity. Managers should be sensitive to the working and communication styles of team members and seek out different kinds of interactions, especially among virtual teams.
Establishing and maintaining a psychologically safe workplace where team members are comfortable being their authentic selves and believe they won’t be punished for speaking up is one of the cornerstones of building an inclusive culture of respect, trust and empathy.
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