From Blue Monday to year-round workplace psychological safety

By Employment Hero Chief People Officer Alex Hattingh
How to create a psychologically safe workplace


1. Change the mindset around failure

It’s more than likely that we’ve all experienced a time when we felt nervous or anxious to speak up in a meeting at many points throughout the past year. Going out on a limb to suggest a new idea, challenge existing assumptions or questioning a senior decision involves a sense of vulnerability and can become scary if the wrong mindset surrounds it. In times like these, its normal to ask yourself:

“What if they think my idea is ridiculous?”
“What if my idea fails?”
“Is my opinion wrong?”
“What if I irritate my boss and lose my job?”

In all of these questions there is one clear message — we are fearful of failing. Humans tend to fear the consequences that may follow if we fail to succeed, especially if their workplace has a negative attitude towards failure. If we believe only negativity can come from our mistakes, we create an environment that is psychologically unsafe. But what if we decided to change our ways of thinking around failure, and it made it into something constructive? As the old saying goes, ‘It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey’.

In a nutshell, it’s about looking at failure in a new light as something that can be welcomed rather than rejected.

Top hint: Try sharing your own failures with your team so they can feel a sense of commonality.

2. Show you trust and respect those around you

It’s easy to get the idea of psychologically safety confused with trust. Although the two ideas go hand in hand, they are different in nature. On one hand, trust refers to providing others with the benefit of the doubt when you take a risk. For example, telling someone a secret can be perceived as a risk, however, your trust in them means you believe the information will be kept safe. On the other hand, psychologically safety revolves around other people providing you with the benefit of the doubt when taking a risk and making yourself vulnerable. A perfect case would be stating your opinion in a meeting and relying on those present to not pass judgement.

Trust is something you give; psychological safety is something you receive. Showing your team that you trust and respect their thoughts, feelings, voice and opinions can help them to feel comfortable in the space they are in, especially with us now all working and connecting from different places more and more. So if you want to foster a psychologically safe workplace for yourself and your colleagues, you must ensure you’re offering others a safe place to share their ideas wherever they are working from.


3. Embrace positive conflict

Conflict, much like failure, is typically viewed in a negative light. When we think of conflict, we picture two people in a heated argument with their arms folded, lips pursed, and brows pulled together. When it comes to work, we can’t guarantee we’ll always agree with what our colleagues have to say. In a psychologically safe workplace, we want to encourage everyone to say what they think and feel.

If carried out poorly, workplace conflict can leave people feeling upset, isolated and ostracised by the rest of the team. For this reason alone, it is crucial to open up a safe space for discussion. First start by establishing clear expectations. Turn the differences of opinion into a healthy debate and try to come to a mutual understanding. Place emphasis on the commonalities between your team, rather than focusing on the differences.


4. Stop the spread of negativity

If you hear of someone in your team speaking negatively about a certain colleague behind their back, immediately pull them up on it. Be clear in how you address gossip, let them know that kind of behaviour is not tolerated and can make people feel unsafe.

When a leader speaks poorly about their staff or allows negativity to flourish, they are setting a poor example for their team. Employees will assume it is okay to ostracise others, or fear that they themselves are the target of gossip. In either case, this creates a psychologically unsafe environment.


5. Involve and listen to your team when making decisions

If you want to make your employees feel as though their voices are heard and their feelings are valued, include them in decision making. Reach out and ask for their input and opinions. Creating a level playing field for your team will encourage them to provide suggestions regardless of their role.

Be sure to keep them in the loop every step of the way. Once a decision has been made, explain how their feedback contributed to the outcome. Let them know of any other suggestions that were presented and how they were factored in. Your employees will appreciate any inclusivity and transparency you can provide.

Author: Editorial Team

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