5 Ways to Improve Psychological Safety at Work
Chances are, you know someone who has absolutely hated their job. Perhaps that someone is you. Workplace discontent is often the result of toxic workplace culture and a need to strengthen psychological safety at work.
Degrees of workplace discontent may vary from the sense of dread or unfulfillment heading into work—or logging on—to calling in sick or taking excessive time off. And though “hating” one’s job is an extreme example, insights from EVERFI’s recent research study, Preventing Toxic Workplaces, reveals that workplace stress is a pervasive problem with more than half of participants (54%) agreeing that negative stress is prevalent at their workplace.
Recently, there’s been a renewed focus on the concept of “psychological safety” and its importance in creating a healthy and inclusive workplace culture. A term first coined in 1990 by Dr. William Kahn, psychological safety is defined as “the ability to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status, or career”.
In in his 2019 book, The Four Stages of Psychological Safety: The Path to Inclusion and Innovation, Dr. Timothy Clark expanded upon this definition with the notion that psychological safety is “a condition in which you feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo—all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized or punished in some way.”
Improving Psychological Safety Involves the Whole Team
The following suggestions are meant to provide guidance for supporting a positive culture, increase the collective well-being of your community, and strengthen the psychological safety across your organization.
1. Find Out What is Hampering the Psychological Safety of Your Workforce
Often, senior leaders are largely disconnected from specific challenges impacting their employees’ sense of well-being. By engaging in mechanisms that collect employee experience information through engagement surveys, workplace climate surveys, and focus groups, leaders can glean a better sense of the challenges that their employees may be facing—and begin to take steps towards solutions.
2. Promote Psychological Safety with Authentic Leadership
There are actually strategies that have been shown to promote psychological safety among employees—many of which focus on the importance of having invested and authentic leaders. From LinkedIn posts about personal time and mental health days, those in executive positions have an opportunity more powerful than ever before to set a tone that promotes psychological safety. By actively challenging practices that minimize an employee’s sense of belonging, and actively promoting those that contribute to a culture of inclusion and self-care, today’s leaders can set a new standard.
3. Identify and Leverage Employee Strengths to Create a Positive Work Culture
As humans, we thrive when we are doing work that we feel is meaningful and aligned with our strengths. When practices are built to support and honor the strengths of each individual contributor, employees can flourish. For example, in weekly check-ins with employees to identify the approach that most honors their strengths, some may prefer to outline their work in writing, while others may prefer a 1-on-1 dialogue. Similarly, when putting teams together, consider including strength assessments such as VIA or StrengthsQuest as part of your process.
It is also beneficial to share with employees the “why” behind certain projects. When employees understand not only the goals of a task, but their specific role in it and how it contributes to the broader organizational picture, they can better harness their strengths to succeed. Strategically honoring and maximizing employees’ strengths enables those in leadership roles to foster a positive workplace culture and, likely, increase productivity within a more engaged workforce.
4. Realign Workplace Culture to Improve Psychological Safety
The culture of an organization is defined by more than the snacks in the lunchroom and occasional happy hours. Everything from an organization’s motto and mission statement to the physical spaces that we occupy can be an opportunity to promote employee well-being. This includes the amount of PTO that is provided (and the ease at which employees are supported in utilizing it), the types of insurance and EAP plans that are chosen (are policies related to mental health considered in reviewing providers?), and the way in which we set the tone with employees through ongoing communication streams.
5. Improve Psychological Safety Through Training
One often overlooked or undervalued mechanism for reaching employees en masse is through workplace training. According to research on toxic workplaces, respondents from organizations that include culture-building topics in their training are more likely to say that their workplace is positive and non-toxic. Those that include culture building are also viewed as more effective than those that focus on compliance-only.
Within the context of collecting employee data through such training, consider the surveys that you are using and whether the demographics section is inclusive of all identities. Training opportunities that focus on maximizing the health beliefs of employees and creating a positive culture—rather than simply reducing unwanted behaviors—can be a powerful step towards demonstrating a community of care.
At a time in which most employees spend an excess of 40 hours a week in the workplace, it’s critical that employers make safety and well-being a key priority. Although the roots of psychological safety can run deep, the most forward-thinking organizations are taking strategic and deliberate steps to enact meaningful practices.
Providing employees engaging, online workplace training is a key step towards strengthening the culture of your workforce. Learn how EVERFI can help you manage compliance training, across a dispersed workforce, that provides valuable insights into your workplace culture.