What Is Psychological Safety at Work? 4 Ways to Create an Inclusive Culture
Every employer wants their people to feel like they can bring their full selves to work. Not only is it better for mental health—it’s also good for business.
According to a McKinsey survey, 89% of employees feel psychological safety is essential. On top of making people feel valued, psychological safety can positively impact performance, productivity, innovation, and even employee health outcomes
On the flip side, if your employees are afraid to speak up at work, your business is at risk. After all, stifling creativity and harshly judging their contributions will likely lead to lower morale and higher turnover.
That’s why it’s crucial to consistently check in with your people. With BambooHR, you can leverage tools like Employee Wellbeing and Employee Satisfaction to keep tabs on the emotional health of your employees and make them feel heard.
What Is Psychological Safety in the Workplace?
At its core, psychological safety is a shared belief that team members can freely discuss ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes without facing judgment or punishment. A psychologically safe workplace doesn’t mean coworkers will always agree or get along. Instead, it means employees are encouraged to take calculated risks, knowing their teammates will have their back.
To foster inclusion and innovation in the workplace, leaders must gradually create the conditions for psychological safety.
According to Timothy R. Clark, an Oxford-trained CEO and social scientist, there are four stages:
- Inclusion Safety: When people feel free to be who they really are.
- Learner Safety: When people feel safe to ask questions, experiment, and even make mistakes in the pursuit of growth.
- Contributor Safety: When people feel empowered to make a difference.
- Challenger Safety: When people feel safe to offer feedback and alternative ideas.
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Why Is a Psychologically Safe Work Environment Important?
Psychologically safe workplaces are generally calmer, more positive, and more inviting. Employees in these environments are more likely to openly share their constructive feedback since they feel welcomed and respected by their team.
In fact, according to BambooHR Marketplace partner Bonusly, by increasing the number of employees who feel their opinions and ideas are heard and valued from 30% to 60%, a business can realize a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents, and a 12% increase in productivity.
What’s more, companies that commit to creating psychological safety in the workplace stand to reap several benefits such as greater:
It Promotes Employee Wellbeing
High psychological safety at work leads to 74% less stress. In turn, employees who can leave workplace stress behind enjoy greater physical and mental health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests they may even be less prone to workplace-induced health complications like cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders.
It Helps Achieve Better Employee Retention
With nearly 90% of employees holding psychological safety in high regard, it’s clear that an employee is more likely to stick around if they feel like they can be their authentic self at work.
Plus, retaining more employees can boost a company’s bottom line as it avoids the high costs associated with skills gaps and a revolving door for new hires.
It Encourages Innovation
When employees feel safe bringing ideas to the table, they’re more likely to contribute. Since people’s failures are not held against them in psychologically safe workplaces, they tend to be more creative and willing to rework ideas until they succeed. This can, in turn, lead to a greater competitive edge and increased business revenue.
It Supports Productivity
Simply put, high psychological safety builds trust. And according to Harvard Business Review, people at high-trust organizations report 50% higher productivity. When employees feel their thoughts, opinions, and ideas are valued, they’re more engaged and invested in the task at hand.
Included. Supported. Retained.
Don't leave your company culture to chance. With accurate, reliable employee surveys in BambooHR, you'll gain the insight you need to prevent burnout, improve morale, and stop premature turnover in its tracks.
Examples of Psychological Safety at Work
Fostering a culture of psychological safety is crucial, but it can be hard to know where to begin. Feel free to use these practical examples as a launch pad:
- Inclusion Safety: Companies may ask new hires to fill out an “About Me” form as part of the onboarding process. For instance, ask questions like, “What’s your favorite candy bar?” Then, leave that candy bar on their desk for their first day.
- Learner Safety: Managers can include professional development goals in performance reviews. Doing so lets employees know their company is invested in their growth.
- Contributor Safety: CEOs can empower teams to spend time on projects they see as high-impact. For example, Google’s 20% rule allows employees to spend 20% of their working hours on projects outside of their core responsibilities that could benefit the company. Gmail and AdSense—two tools you’re likely familiar with—were products of this rule.
- Challenger Safety: HR managers can create multiple avenues for both anonymous and direct feedback.
4 Ways You Can Create a Safe Space at Work
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to creating psychological safety in the workplace, these steps can help you get started:
- Include feedback in your company values. At BambooHR, our “Be Open” value encourages employees to embrace new ideas from both themselves and others.
- Incorporate diversity recruiting into your hiring practices. When employees feel valued for who they are from their very first interaction with your company (i.e., the job listing) they’ll have a sense of psychological safety from day one.
- Train your leaders. Your leaders’ management and communication styles play a huge role in psychological safety in the workplace. Training leaders on empathy, career development, and other management strategies will help them navigate the complex needs of a diverse workforce.
- Create a 360° recognition program. When the space exists for it, your employees will feel empowered to acknowledge and appreciate each other’s achievements. Platforms like Bonusly make employee recognition as easy as the click of a button.
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