Psychological safety in the workplace isn’t a topic you should sleep on—let’s explore the reasons why. For starters, the majority of people practice general safety naturally on a daily basis.
🛒 We lock our cars in the grocery store parking lot.
📱 We password protect our phones, laptops, Wi-Fi networks, etc.
🤝 We maintain close friendships with people that we trust.
But what happens when safety is lacking in an environment that we can’t necessarily control?
For example, let’s take a look at a work-related situation with a make-believe employee—we’ll name her Susan. Susan is a new employee who is excited to bring her ideas to the table. She comes across an ongoing company issue and takes the initiative to brainstorm a solution to fix it. However, when she brings her solution to light during a team meeting, her co-workers roll their eyes and dismiss her idea without a second thought.
Let’s face it: the chances of Susan sharing another idea after this occurrence aren’t great. Susan’s team did not create a space of psychological safety, and in turn made her feel like she wasn’t welcome to fully express her creativity, ideas, and solutions without self-censoring.
To foster a culture of transparency and support, specifically in a remote or hybrid work environment, it’s crucial that every single team member feels comfortable openly expressing their opinions.
Continue reading to learn about the importance of nurturing psychological safety in the workplace and how to actively integrate it into your organization’s hybrid system.
What Is Psychological Safety?
Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmondson, in her work with Google’s Project Aristotle, coined the phrase ‘psychological safety’ as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”
Edmondson describes that “team psychological safety [is] characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves”.
When employees are encouraged to speak freely, they naturally will feel more engaged with the team because they now have an additional layer of comfort that allows them to show up authentically as themselves. A lot of good things happen when employees are encouraged to let down their guards and don’t have to worry about possible unwarranted repercussions from merely expressing their thoughts.
Psychological safety is even more pivotal in a hybrid workplace, where emotional availability is crucial for in-office and remote communication. Your employees should always feel valuable, respected, and empowered in their well-being, no matter where they are located in the work environment.
The more open your employees are with their creativity and ideas, the more opportunities your company will have for both interpersonal and professional growth.
Building Psychological Safety In A Hybrid Workplace
Employees who are remote may experience different levels of autonomy, access, and inclusivity than employees who are in-office. That is why a hybrid workplace is typically described as the best of both worlds, especially in the context of psychological safety.
It’s never a good idea to force change on anyone, especially a diverse group of people who are globally distributed. Psychological safety requires teams to build a sustainable company culture and commit to the maintenance that it needs. To eliminate potential challenges, teams need to make an even greater effort to make sure that everyone is treated equally from the start.
Diversity, curiosity, and collaboration are all factors that support the opportunity for a company to thrive. The goal of a team is to lift each other up and feel comfortable enough to share any gaps in knowledge so that others can help fill them.
Here are three essential tips that will help your team effectively introduce psychological safety within your hybrid workplace.
1. Start Small, Send Invitations
If you’re hosting a party, what is the first thing that you do to spread the word? You have to send out the invitations!
If people are unaware of the gathering details and don’t have a way to RSVP, they’re probably not going to show up to your gathering. In the same light, it’s the leader’s responsibility to be proactive about encouraging employees to show up—and speak up. Team meetings provide a great opportunity to do just that.
During your next virtual or in-person meeting, carve out some time that is specifically dedicated to receiving feedback from your employees. Keep a list of questions on hand in case there are stalls in conversation, but overall, make sure that every person on the team has the chance to speak up and contribute equally to avoid pack mentality. While others are speaking, encourage the team to participate in active listening so that they can fully grasp other’s ideas, thoughts, concepts, and perspectives.
As the leader, you are the host of the meeting (or party... that sounds more fun). So start small, send out those invitations, and set the stage for your work environment to thrive on team participation
2. Transparency Is Key
Psychological safety is all about building trust and empathy within your relationships. This means treating transparency like a two-way street and not demanding your employees to open up to you right away. Your team should also never feel like they have to be someone else or constantly maintain an image at work.
Establishing open communication, trust, and authenticity needs to start at the leadership level and trickle down throughout the organization. One of the most effective ways to cultivate psychological safety is by setting the example through your own actions, which have a significant influence on the team. As a result of witnessing the leadership commitment, employee satisfaction will spike, leading to a collaborative and psychologically safe workplace culture.
Think about the last time you witnessed someone in a management position admit to a mistake or ask for help. This type of vulnerability is extremely powerful in building psychological safety because it shows that even someone in a leadership position can be open and honest with the team.
During your next team meeting, hold a conversation with your team about the importance of feedback. Make sure to reframe it as a way to provide guidance, rather than criticize someone’s work. Ask your employees to be as transparent as possible so that everyone can learn how to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and create objectives to help orchestrate continuous improvement.
To build a truly safe and inclusive culture, everyone on the team needs to maintain transparency, kindness, and support as they continue to pave the best path forward, together.
3. Normalize Psychological Safety In The Workplace
Psychological safety should be as natural in your hybrid workplace as joining a Zoom call after the year 2020. Practicing active listening, offering help and support, and making an effort to get to know your team outside of work are just some ways to help your team maintain their culture.
The key is to make psychological safety discussable. When your employees aren’t used to having conversations about the topic, they assume that they’re not supposed to talk about it. Normalizing these conversations in the workplace is the first step to nurturing a stronger and more inclusive environment.
Try one (or all!) of these examples with your team:
👉 Start a private team chat in a Slack channel that encourages open discussions.
👉 Host a ‘not-another-meeting’ digital hangout in Zoom to encourage team bonding.
👉 Ask the leadership to participate in a Q&A where any and all questions are welcome.
Help your team understand that collectively, there will be things that will go wrong on the path to making things right. This is only natural when creating a culture shift that is focused on elevating team members and letting them know that their voice is heard.
Collaboration + Curiosity = Psychological Safety
Psychological safety is truly present when your team members can be their most authentic selves. Leaders and employees alike need to remain curious in order to foster a hybrid work environment that challenges existing thinking without the fear of negative consequences.
Your hybrid workplace is already filled with brilliant minds, different opinions, and creative ideas that are ready to scale your company’s innovation and growth.
Now it’s time to give your employees a safe space to do just that.
Good or bad, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello)!