Psychological safety is the ability to take risks, speak up, work creatively and innovatively as well as be our authentic selves at work without fear of reprisal, discrimination or retaliation. Psychological safety is often discussed in relation to employee well-being and retention rates, but its impact within organizational culture extends further. Establishing psychological safety in the workplace can have a significant impact over other important factors, including creativity, employee engagement and team collaboration.
Creativity is a necessity for businesses to flourish and succeed, and psychological safety is a significant factor in encouraging employees to feel comfortable sharing new ideas and thinking outside of the box. When the brain feels threatened, creativity and innovation can be stifled due to stress. Fear of rejection can stop employees from becoming their authentic selves and contributing ideas.
An organizational culture must do the work and take the adequate steps to make employees feel safe to speak freely without fear of negative consequences, like retaliation or public humiliation. This kind of fear can significantly reduce effective collaboration among teams. A study by Adobe found that three-quarters of respondents felt they were under pressure from management to be productive rather than creative while at work. This kind of rigid environment that values output over innovation can likely stunt creativity.
It’s up to leaders to create a company culture that values creativity and that is willing to do the work to influence creative thinkers. And in today’s world of work, employers cannot afford to not encourage creativity. Innovation is a driver of success. In this article, we’ll evaluate three helpful tips for boosting psychological safety in the workplace to drive better performance for the business.
Give Employees Freedom
When employees feel safe to explore exciting, new ideas and take creative risks, they can feel more engaged in their role and the organization. When the purpose of the individual aligns with the company mission and purpose, an energizing and creative two-way street that facilitates innovation can be created.
However, on the other hand, when employees feel like they don’t have the freedom to explore new ideas or like they aren’t trusted to take the reins within their role, their excitement toward their contribution to the business, as well as their creative flare, can likely begin to dwindle, directly impacting the quality of their work.
To ensure employees feel safe to explore new ideas, leaders must create an environment that supports and encourages creative freedom while mentoring and nurturing teams. This begins with learning how to communicate with empathy. Leaders must learn how to respond to employee ideas with curiosity and enthusiasm. This is key to boosting employee confidence and engagement. Avoid shutting down ideas or giving responses that can make employees feel embarrassed to share ideas in the future. If people perceive a response to be negative or dismissive, it can damage their sense of psychological safety.
Also, create pockets of time for employees to share their ideas freely. For example, during weekly team meetings and one-on-ones, give employees the floor to provide feedback and to share their perspective on anything happening in the organization and/or industry. If employees feel like their opinions are being actively sought out, they’ll feel more comfortable to speak up when not prompted and to take risks.
Leaders Set an Example
Leaders must demonstrate the behaviors they want to see in their teams, and let it permeate from the top to the rest of the organization. Demonstrating vulnerability and sharing stories of your own mishaps, as well as times where creative risks paid off, can help employees feel encouraged to do the same and not to feel ashamed or discouraged whenever they make mistakes on the job.
Encourage Support Among Teams
While managerial support is important, receiving support from peers is also key for building psychological safety and encouraging idea sharing with confidence. A psychologically safe environment can help discourage feelings of embarrassment and allow for creative collaboration that may lead to real innovation.
Critical and/or undermining responses must be actively discouraged in order to set a precedence for listening with empathy and being respectful of different perspectives. This is where soft skills training is very important in ensuring success. Demonstrate to employees what it means to practice active listening skills and how to be open minded and empathetic. These skills are critical for effective idea sharing and team collaboration.
Specific discovery opportunities should be scheduled to build trust, promote open discussion and explore different perspectives. Employees should be encouraged to share if they can: Confidence to share in a group setting can take time to build. The active support from peers in the form of attention and words of encouragement need to be standard practice in order to maintain a constructive environment.
Through making an active effort to cultivate psychologically safe work spaces, leaders can encourage risk taking, idea sharing and innovative change through building confidence in teams and maximizing excitement.