This week our Occupli Safety Consultant Aisling Hegarty outlines the benefits of promoting Psychological Safety in the workplace.
American Professor, Social Scientist and Author Brené Brown explains that in order for leaders to be successful in their role they should have the vulnerability and courage to be there for people, even in times of fear and uncertainty. In her book Daring Greatly she says. “Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging.”
For a long time, workplace safety considered only the physical and chemical hazards as the key risks to employees. For example, manual handling, slip, fall or trip hazards, noise, industrial chemicals. However, the increasing awareness of addressing the psychosocial factors (i.e. bullying, workload and stress) in the workplace focused the spotlight further on the area of Psychological Safety. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many uncertainties and changes, both in peoples’ personal and professional life. It has changed the way people work, so much so, a Work Life Balance Bill has been submitted to the Irish Government which recognises the importance of balancing life’s responsibilities with work responsibilities.
This blog piece outlines what leaders need to do in order to integrate psychological safety in the workplace and discuss the benefits of becoming ‘daring leaders’.
What exactly is psychological safety?
The term ‘Psychological Safety’ was first coined by Professor Amy Edmondson. She describes the term ‘team psychological safety’ as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking”. It acknowledges the importance of the work – team with a view that their shared humanity and respect for one another are important contributors. In addition to connection and engagement, vulnerability in the workplace is a driver for building a successful leader. When leaders and employees feel exposed to their failings and mistakes, they tend to place blame on others rather than taking accountability and responsibility for their actions. However, by admitting their faults and speaking honestly and openly they can inevitably build trust and respect among employees.
In her research Professor Edmondson found that interpersonal trust and respect are vital components in psychological safety. Leaders may also be exposed to vulnerability by admitting to their own uncertainties or by simply saying to an employee ‘I do not have the answer’. There is also a stigma around the sharing of emotions and personal issues as this may render them weak or unable to do their work competently. However, in psychological safety vulnerability should be rewarded rather than scorned. It allows for that necessary engagement, transparency and promotes overall performance within the workforce.
In the below diagram, Professor Edmondson describes her own 2×2 matrix for how psychological safety relates to performance standards in the workplace:
To integrate psychological safety into the workplace, leaders will need to observe their overall safety management framework and make the necessary changes to adapt their ways. There are four key stages recommended for creating psychological safety in the workplace. These include; Inclusion Safety; Learner Safety; Contributor Safety and Challenger Safety:
To help them navigate through these different stages leaders will need to practice and cultivate the following attitudes;
- building of meaningful connections with the work team;
- be prepared to become vulnerable;
- be transparent;
- actively listen to their employees;
- have the capacity for empathy.
Stages in creating psychological safety in the workplace:
- Inclusion Safety. This stage is concerned with connection and a sense of belonging. As previously discussed, a sense of belonging promotes authenticity in the individual and respect in the workplace
- Learner Safety. The second stage in generating psychological safety and discusses the importance of continuously growing and learning in the workplace. This may be simply asking questions, giving and receiving feedback, and allowing for mistakes to happen
- Contributor Safety. This is an earned privilege, one that ensures the leader is secure and empathetic.
- Challenger Safety. This is the final stage of psychological safety, and as described by Timonthy Clarke, founder and CEO of LeaderFactor, it is about allowing Leaders to “challenge the status quo”. The leader must promote innovation and cultivate a more formidable safety culture and management system. Leaders are the people that set an example in the workplace and influence the behaviours of their workforce. They must take a step further to ensure workers feel involved, engaged, worthy and innovative.
What are the beneficial outcomes of psychological safety?
The first benefit is creating that safe space for ‘Personal Learning’. Leaders can influence their workers to speak up, ask the tough questions and be transparent within their team. The next benefit for leaders is ‘Risk Management’. The Risk Management standard ISO 31000:2018 describes the standard as to “..create and protect value in organisations by managing risks, making decisions, setting and achieving objectives and improving performance”. Considering this definition of risk management, it is about dealing with and discussing risks in the workplace thoroughly and skilfully in order to appropriately manage them. ‘Innovation’ is the third benefit and allows workers to brainstorm, talk about new ideas on how certain tasks can be improved upon and overall creating engagement within the work-team. The final benefit is ‘Job Satisfaction’. When leaders create a work environment that promotes psychological safety they will feel more included, appreciated and more confident in their ability to perform their role within the organisation.
Psychological safety has been regarded as a human need and thus leaders are being asked to ensure this human need is being met. Experts in Leadership training believe leaders need to be the ‘architect’ in order to bring about this change in the safety management structure. Leaders can generate a culture of psychological safety and integrate it within their overall safety management system, however they must first cultivate bravery and dare to take the lead.