Psychological safety is a ‘feeling‘ we’ve heard more and more of in the workplace in more recent years. If you asked about how it relates to organizations 20 or 30 years ago, it wasn’t a common concept. Today, it relates to factors that affect employee engagement, employee performance and leadership to name a few.
In its simplest terms, psychological safety in the workplace is creating an environment that allows people to feel safe to express, communicate and be themselves without fear. Whether it’s taking risks or simply making a mistake, fear is often the underlying culprit that creates a feeling of being unsafe in our own place of work.
Our global climate today is heightened with emotions where we have very little control over the actions of world leaders. Many of which those actions have ripple effects on the way we live and lead our lives every day. However, in the workplace where you DO have control over the tone you set, as a leader, you have every opportunity to lead differently. To create an environment where others feel safe.
In the best of times you’re expected to celebrate, and, in the worst, you’re challenged to create safety and lead through the storm.
Even more importantly, in daily operations where employees are expected to problem-solve, innovate, create and think critically, taking risks – the ones that can fail and lead to mistakes big or small are inevitable. The question is, how do you react?
This doesn’t mean not feeling insecure or experiencing very human emotions of being uncertain and fearful. However, leading with those emotions in a negative way where your people ‘feel’ it, doesn’t allow for solutions to come to light let alone support your employees who are looking to you for guidance and support.
Some food for thought on how to lead through the storm and create an environment of safety:
- Lead with curiosity – what we don’t understand, we tend to judge as humans. Mistakes and errors occur all the time. We’re human, it’s what we do best. Taking a lens of curiosity and asking vs. telling allows your employees to feel vulnerable enough to know they can make a mistake without fear of some repercussion.
- Communicate – transparency and openness are encouraged and appreciated. Whether it’s due to a change that impacts a small team or the entire organization. Lead with actions and communicate with a clear voice. How you communicate in your day to day corporate communications matters just as much as during times of change.
- Establish a culture of trust – trust is built over time and in the smallest of moments to some of the biggest ones in our careers. Being integral with your word and with your actions is noticed and recognized. When employees ‘see’ a leader, they’re looking at actions and how that lines up with your word. If they trust what they see and hear, they’re more inclined to feel trusted to show up in the same way and more importantly, be open with you.
- Honour mistakes and recognize wins – these tie nicely into leading with curiosity. When mistakes happen, honour them. It’s bad enough the person responsible is likely feeling embarrassed for making an error, but there’s always a lesson in it and a learning opportunity. If you allow your employees to learn from it including for you as a leader. On the flip side, recognize when a win happens big or small and equally show curiosity. How did they make it happen? What did they do to get there? Celebrate, the successes and be the calm in the storm.
Creating an environment where your people can feel safe to show up is cultivated through modelled behaviour with many of the above recommendations and what you say.
Create the culture you dream of become a reality you live every day. Be the leader and organizational success story that shows others how it’s done.
I’d love to hear from you.
How do you create a workplace environment where employees feel safe?
Let me know in the comments below!