The Next Frontier of Worker Safety: Psychological Safety
- 4 Min Read
Why should you make psychological safety a workplace priority? Janine Truitt, Chief Innovations Officer, Talent Think Innovations and HRD Thought Leader, examines the urgency of psychological safety as a cultural imperative.
We have mostly focused our efforts on ensuring the physical safety of our employees, but what about their psychological safety? According to Gallup data on psychological safety, only 3 in 10 U.S. workers strongly agree that their opinions seem to count. This data from Gallup also suggested that doubling this number could mean organizations see “27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents and a 12% increase in productivity”. The reality is we want a majority of our employees to strongly agree that not only are their opinions heard and valued; but that the way they see the world will be digested with respect and a curiosity for understanding a variety of perspectives. Occupational safety and physical safety garners all sorts of precautions in the way of in-services and trainings. The last thing an organization wants is to be legally and financially-responsible for a worker death or worker injury due to unsafe work conditions or some other form of negligence.
The mind however is something altogether different. It isn’t quite tangible. It appears to be a wily place that we try to understand through engagement surveys, but that is seemingly out of reach. We know it’s there. After all, it’s the mindset of the employee that likely caused you to hire them in the first place; so isn’t it interesting that we don’t often take the due care to safeguard the other essential part of your most important company asset? Like the physical body, the mind can also deteriorate and/or become fatigued creating other occupational and mental health concerns at work when it is suppressed or fed to unhealthy work conditions regularly.
Defining “Psychological Safety”?
Psychological Safety is the degree to which an environment feels safe for an individual to share their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives without fear of rejection, dismissal, or scrutiny. When people can show up fully and authentically at work with their views, ideas, and opinions in tow it creates openness in the environment that not only becomes fertile ground for innovation, but for acceptance of a variety of people. I would argue that this is one of the missing and underlying indicators of success where diversity, inclusion, and equity are concerned. It’s one thing to attract talent and quite another to include them in all facets of the work in a way that doesn’t suggest they are an outlier among their peers.
Subculture eats culture for breakfast
There is company culture which is what most companies focus on cultivating so as to ensure there is a comprehensive look and feel for the organization at large. The tricky part is when the company culture gets diluted or transmuted into something other than what was intended at the organizational level further down the org chart. It is there where employees will be faced with the variety of subcultures that exist at various levels. The hope is that the ecosystem invites everyone to speak up, be heard and included. Often times, it isn’t this way and individuals get lost among work cliques, rivalries, and inclusion-resistant peers and bosses who have found comfort in a select few having a say.
Some ways you can begin assessing whether you are cultivating a psychologically-safe organization is to ask yourself the following questions:
- How well have you canvassed the organization to know how employees will be assimilated into the organization?
- What are the social and interpersonal dynamics at the organizational and departmental levels? How do the two levels differ?
- Have you encouraged and trained leaders as well as individual contributors to demonstrate communication styles that support open dialogue, respectful debate, and acceptance of new ideas or perspectives?
- Does your organization have a track-record of retaliating and/or bullying people who speak their minds?
- Does psychological safety look and feel differently for under-represented groups? If so, how do you start to close those gaps?
Many workforce concerns can be solved by asking the difficult and key questions of ourselves as an organization. It is very much like allowing our employees to hold up a mirror to the organization while they tell us all the ways we aren’t the fairest of them all. The truth of the matter is we can’t fix what we aren’t aware of. By considering these factors and realities that our employees are faced with on a daily basis, we can shift our work ecosystems in a positive and more inclusive manner where every human has equal opportunity to flourish in their careers.