Cultivating a sense of trust and safety in the workplace has been identified for several years as a key factor for successful organizations that are able to engage and retain their workforce. But what does “safe working environment” mean and what do business leaders have to consider in order to cope with the new working arrangements shaped post-COVID-19?
What used to be considered the “future of work” has already arrived, with the COVID-19 pandemic redefining the business landscape globally since 2020. Among other major disruptions that the pandemic brought to our lives, the ongoing trend of Great Resignation (also known as the “Big Quit”), with young people massively quitting their jobs in the past two years, has highlighted the hidden problems of the modern workplace and weaknesses in organizational leadership. One of these weaknesses is the failure of business leaders to build psychological safety among their employees.
What is “psychological safety”?
Psychological safety at work lies in the capability of leaders to create an environment where employees feel included and encouraged to contribute their best ideas, without being afraid of retaliation, punishment or embarrassment, according to Dr. Timothy R. Clark, social scientist, founder and CEO of global leadership training organization Leader Factor. In his book, Dr. Clark explains how the fear of being punished blocks employees’ creativity, and consequently efficiency, at work.
Psychological safety means that you feel safe interacting with others without fear that you’ll be embarrassed or punished in some way
The 4 stages of psychological safety at work
Dr. Clark explains that we all have an inborn need to do four things when we interact with each other:
- Feel included. Humans need to be accepted before they need to be heard. This is connected with the human need to belong and gain membership.
- Feel safe to learn and grow. This means being able to ask questions, give and receive feedback, experiment and even make mistakes. Eventually, this will make others also more willing to learn.
- Feel safe to contribute. This means being able to participate as a member of the team, using our talents and abilities to make a difference. In addition, the more we contribute, the more confidence we develop.
- Feel safe to challenge the status quo. This means being able to look around and say “It is time for things to change and I have an idea about how to make things better”. Challenging the status quo without fear of retaliation paves the way to innovation.
If we can’t do them (these four things), it is emotionally expensive. Fear shuts us down; it triggers what we call the self-censoring instinct. And when that happens, we hold back and manage risk and we are not happy or reaching our potential. But when the environment nurtures psychological safety and we feel safe enough to do these four things, there is an explosion of confidence, engagement and performance
…Dr. Clark explained.
Psychological safety at work: Figures at a glance
The importance of psychological safety is reflected in 2018 figures from the UK showing that millions are lost each year due to work-related stress, anxiety, and depression, while more recent data by Gallup reveal that lower psychological safety is associated with 27% lower turnover for organizations. Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off, explained also Dr. Laura Delizonna from Stanford University to Harvard Business Review.
Research by Dublin-based consultant firm Accenture found that building a sense of trust at work makes employees 5 times more likely to experience increased performance at work. It also identified the following benefits of psychological safety at work:
- 76% more engagement
- 74% less stress
- 57% more likely for employees to collaborate
- 67% higher probability that workers will apply a newly learned skill on the job
“Crack yourself open and take a look inside: Ask yourself if you feel included, safe to learn, safe to contribute and safe to challenge the status quo. Finally, ask yourself if you are doing all you can to create an environment where others can do these four things,
…Dr. Clark concluded.
The importance of psychological safety in shipping
In a safety-critical industry like maritime, building psychological safety onboard is a vital step to overall safety performance, argued Capt. Hans Hederström from the Chalmers University of Technology, in an interview with SAFETY4SEA. For example, how will people onboard be willing to disclose any critical-for-safety gaps if they are afraid of retaliation? This brings again the growing discussion about the development of soft skills in the shipping industry to the forefront, he stressed.
“Leaders must realize that more regulation, compliance, and control will not make the industry safer. To improve safety performance leaders must develop their leadership skills to create trust and psychological safety within their team,
…Capt. Hederström noted.
Building psychological safety: 5 Tips for business leaders
- Show gratitude and appreciation
- Establish frequent check-ins
- Put curiosity over criticism
- Ask for people’s feedback
- Normalize discussions on psychological safety
Leave a Reply