In 2015, members of Google’s HR department set out to define the common characteristics of the company’s most successful teams. The leading trait was something they dubbed “psychological safety.” When staffers felt they could take risks without fear of embarrassment—or, worse, termination—they were more successful in the long run.
Since the group released its findings, psychological safety has become something of an industry-spanning buzzword. (Which is understandable—if it’s good enough to help make Google successful, it’s good enough for everyone else.) Their study has practical implications for managers in all industries, who can take specific steps to help foster a psychologically safe environment for their own teams.
Since people in leadership roles of all companies carry the most responsibility for the culture of those companies, managers should first examine their own emotional and social responses to challenges faced while on the job. Maintaining a calm and positive attitude can help others to do the same, and approaching potential conflicts as a collaborator—rather than as an agitator or adversary—can lead to solutions that are beneficial for all members of a team.
Placing a premium on person-to-person interaction is also crucial to sustaining psychological safety. When a manager can recognize and treat other team members as individuals with their own beliefs, vulnerabilities and perspectives, a healthy psychological environment can sustain itself. Mutual respect is also key—no one wants to enter into a workplace interaction feeling inferior or less-than.
Also inherent in the pursuit of psychological safety is an elevated concern for holistic worker health. Professor Maureen Dollard of the Asia Pacific Center for Work Health and Safety says that “management balance of productivity and worker health concerns” is the defining feature of a psychologically safe work climate. Those who work in environments that are psychologically safe are more engaged and driven, more inclined to take the types of risks that are necessary for growth, and are more productive overall.
According to Personnel Today, managers can take a few tangible steps to achieve psychological safety in the workplace.
Once an organization has identified its core values, sharing those values with employees and training them to take a values-based approach to their work is key to encouraging psychological safety.
While most workplaces have outlined policies governing appropriate workplace conduct, far fewer outline what’s appropriate as far as work-related stress and personal health are concerned. Implementing thoughtful policies that protect workers’ psychological health should become the rule rather than the exception.
It’s incumbent upon employers to take an active role in ensuring the safety of their workforce. By identifying potential risk factors like understaffing and overwork, managers can be proactive in mitigating them.
DISA aims to help companies make informed decisions to bring the most qualified and skilled workers onto their teams. Keeping those carefully chosen people healthy and productive once they’re hired is a task that each manager should own.