Written By Chris Ihrig

Published on May 25, 2023

The workplace can be a challenging environment for many team members. Tight deadlines, long hours, and high-pressure projects — it’s no wonder people routinely feel overwhelmed, stressed, and unsupported. 

Building psychological safety is crucial for organizational leaders. Not only are team members who feel safe at work more productive, stress and feelings of overwhelm greatly diminish when team members feel supported. 

What is a psychologically safe environment? It’s one where team members know they will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, raising questions, sharing concerns, or making mistakes.

In other words, it’s a workplace where team members feel comfortable openly sharing their thoughts and opinions, even if those thoughts and opinions go against the norm or challenge the status quo.

Fostering an environment that encourages the open flow of thoughts and ideas is extremely important — not just for team members, but the business as a whole. When team members feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to contribute, collaborate, take risks, and learn from their mistakes. That usually leads to innovation.

It also inspires better decision-making, since team members are much more likely to feel comfortable raising concerns or pointing out flaws in planning. 

So how can leaders create a culture of psychological safety in their organization? Here are seven specific areas of focus to take:

Lead by Example

One of the most important aspects of creating a culture of psychological safety is leading by example. Leaders must be willing to model the behavior they want to see in their team members. That means being open to feedback, owning their mistakes, and being receptive to new ideas. Being transparent, vulnerable, and approachable, sets the tone for your entire team.

Encourage Pushback

Encouraging pushback allows team members to feel safe to speak up, question decisions, and think beyond the status quo. It also helps inspire a culture of learning and growth — for both team members and leaders themselves. The more a business can challenge assumptions and think critically, the more likely it is to blaze a new trail.

Celebrate Failure

This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s absolutely critical for creating a psychologically safe workplace. Everybody fails at some point, and when those failures are thoughtfully acknowledged and team members encouraged to learn from them, it leads to more significant growth and, ultimately, better results going forward.

Establish Clear Expectations

Another key aspect is establishing clear expectations. When team members know what is expected of them, they are more likely to feel confident in their abilities and less likely to experience anxiety or stress. Additionally, when expectations are clear, it’s easier for team members to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable.

Give Constructive Feedback

The operative word here is, of course, “constructive.” Negative or dismissive criticism helps no one, but when leaders can give clear, specific, and actionable feedback, team members are more likely to improve their performance. Constructive feedback also builds trust and respect between team members and leaders, especially when leaders are open to that same level of feedback themselves.

Foster a Sense of Belonging

This one’s pretty simple: When team members feel like they belong, they are much more likely to feel safe to share their thoughts and ideas. Plus, when team members think of themselves as part of a team, they feel a sense of camaraderie and support.

Celebrating Success

Finally, make sure to celebrate any and all wins. Team members want to know their hard work and contributions are being recognized by leadership — it creates a sense of pride and accomplishment. It also pays dividends going forward by creating a culture of positivity and optimism infectious to other team members.

Psychological Safety is Not About “Coddling”

Organizations that ignore the feelings of their team members rarely succeed for long. Smart companies, and the leaders that steer them, recognize that the people actually driving the business need to be taken care of.

Creating a psychologically safe workplace is one of the most important steps leadership can do to not only inspire team members but encourage them to stick around. 

When people feel free to speak their minds and offer ideas without fear, companies are free to fearlessly innovate as well. That’s a recipe for success.