What Is Psychological Safety?

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In 1999, Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School identified a concept she’d eventually dub “psychological safety,” after researching how workplace performance and employee cohesion were related.

Edmondson was studying teams of doctors at a hospital, expecting to find a negative correlation between the closeness of a team and the amount of mistakes that team made. But in actuality, she found the inverse to be true—and this baffled her. Why would better teams make more mistakes than worse ones? Eventually she realized that superior teams weren’t more error-prone. They were simply more confident and willing to own up to the mistakes they were making. (You can hear more about Edmondson’s eureka moment and accompanying research in this great podcast episode of the Harvard Business Review’s IdeaCast.)

As a result of this study, psychological safety came to be defined as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” That doesn’t mean that by cultivating a culture of psychological safety at your office, your head of accounting is going to go full on Evel Knievel and try to jump a motorcycle over a row of parked cars. 

It means creating a supportive, trusting atmosphere in which workers can feel safe feeling vulnerable. You want your team to feel okay making mistakes and taking chances, because they feel comfortable owning up to failures. You want them to feel ready to speak up and challenge decisions being made, because they know they won’t be punished for pushing back. And you want them to feel able to speak up for themselves—or a teammate—who is facing mistreatment.

Some of the burden of creating a culture of psychological safety falls on your team members. But the vast majority of it falls on you, the higher-ups, the decision-makers, the HR staffers. And as a whole, those in a position to shift culture in the United States aren’t doing a great job. According to Gallup, only 30% of employees feel like their input matters at work, “however, by moving that ratio to six in 10 employees, organizations could realize a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents and a 12% increase in productivity.

Culture is seen within the context of individual behavior, but it takes larger, structural change to make those individuals feel confident in operating from a place of psychological safety. That’s where bringing a tool like Speakfully to your team can make a massive difference.

Speakfully provides a platform for employees to express their concerns or bring more pressing cultural issues to light, in a way that allows them to gradually work their way up to full transparency that comes with disclosure. And it provides HR teams with the data and information they need to take action when employee complaints surface, ensuring that employees feel heard, seen, and supported, especially when they most need it.

To find out more about how Speakfully can help out your organization specifically embrace the concept of psychological security, and make sure your top talent is supported, and sticks around, contact us today!