Is fear keeping your company from achieving, or exceeding, its goals? If you don’t have psychologically safe work environments across your organization, then it probably is.
That’s because workplace psychological safety, a term coined in 1999 by Harvard researcher Amy Edmondson, Ph.D., is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” In a psychologically safe workplace, employees feel free to speak up without retribution or ridicule. But if they fear humiliation, embarrassment, or even punishment from their managers or colleagues, they’re highly unlikely to ask a question or take a risk that might make them look ignorant or incompetent.
A reluctance to be vulnerable or to rock the boat is not just mentally draining. It also contributes to a lack of engagement, high turnover, more safety incidents, lower productivity, a culture of exclusion and a lack of innovation—all of which hamper a company’s success.
Melissa De Jesus, strategic sales manager at MHI member Phoenix Lighting, noted that psychological safety has four key components: inclusion, learning, contribution and challenging.
Inclusion means everyone should feel safe to be themselves, explained De Jesus. “You can’t be fearful of being your true, authentic self at work,” she said. “Regardless of how you’re wired—shy, outgoing, quirky—you have to feel OK to let that show.”
Learning is the ability to ask questions without worrying that doing so will make you look incompetent.
Consider a new employee with years of experience in their field, but a complete lack of familiarity with how their new company does certain things. “If they’re reluctant to ask questions or ask, ‘Why do we do this?’ they won’t get up to speed as quickly. If they feel their input is not welcome, they won’t share insights or alternative approaches with their colleagues who might learn some new tips and tricks,” she explained.
Contribution is the confidence to share ideas, insights and input without concern that those viewpoints will be dismissed, ignored or belittled.
“Everyone has different backgrounds, upbringings and experiences that make us unique and give us different perspectives,” said De Jesus. “If we can’t all come to the table as equals and feel safe making contributions, the company will lose out significantly on the amount of growth it can reach.”