What’s the value of psychological safety?

Safety has many definitions in the workplace, depending on the industry. But psychological safety is a relatively new term that is gaining ground in corporate environments. There’s recognition that it’s not enough to make the workplace physically safe, mental wellbeing has an important role to play in organizational success and productivity too. So what does psychological safety mean, and how does it benefit business?

Broadly defined, psychological safety in a work environment means that employees can share ideas, ask questions and make suggestions without the fear of humiliation or judgement. In other words it’s a place where risks are encouraged and mistakes are not deemed failures but rather learning opportunities. It builds confidence in individual team members and encourages innovation and the incubation of new ideas and solutions. It moves away from the idea that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things and accepts that in a fast changing world, there may be multiple solutions to the same problem.

Now in theory this makes perfect sense, and there are global organisations that have grown exponentially in recent decades because psychological safety has become embedded in their culture. They became known as leaders in innovation. Companies such as Apple and Google come to mind. It’s not surprising that they are also voted among the top companies to work for.  

A culture of doing things differently

What sets innovative companies apart is that they are agile, responding quickly to changes in the marketplace. And they can do this because their employees operate in a space where they can throw ideas out there, challenging the status quo and enjoy better conversations. It doesn’t stop there, there’s the freedom to pull those ideas apart, consider improvements and different perspectives, and it’s all done in a framework of continual learning. The result is agile and innovative teams.

You may wonder what makes this so different from a normal working environment where teams hold brainstorming sessions. In a group environment you’ll have a collection of different personalities and typically the strongest personality will dominate the conversation. If some team members try share ideas and are shut down, it’s likely others will take this as a cue that their input isn’t welcome unless it aligns with the original idea. This develops group think and stifles creativity and innovation. If people fear that their input will be judged or that they will be humiliated, then they’re unlikely to be willing to speak up.  The result is that ideas and systems become entrenched, and instead of being agile and responsive to opportunities, the company spends it’s time conservatively responding to threats and wondering why it can’t keep up to the competition.

How can managers create psychological safety in the workplace?

Instead of holding annual performance reviews, managers can build relationships with their teams and get to know them as individuals. Having a weekly team meeting and providing continual feedback opens the door to having better conversations. Set up a meeting structure where people can talk about issues and learning experiences they’ve had in the past week, and then encourage an open discussion on possible solutions. If everyone knows they’ll have an opportunity to give feedback and share ideas, and that it’s encouraged and expected, then that innovative way of thinking becomes part of their daily approach to working.

This is particularly relevant to aspects of health and safety as well as operations. Being able to pick up on issues early on can help improve processes and create a safer working environment. There is also the added benefit that when people feel that their input will be valued, they take more interest in their job. They feel empowered and are more likely to take personal responsibility for what they do. This in turn benefits management, easing some of the burden of responsibility because they know that they can trust the people in their teams to make better decisions and give honest feedback.

How can recruitment support psychological safety?

When a person is recruited based on evidence, it becomes less about gut feel and more about getting the job done. WasteRecruit’s evidence-based approach to recruitment focusses on a candidates’ ability to do the job, regardless of their age, gender, or ethnicity. This helps to support diversity and removes bias from the recruiting process. Diversity helps to support psychological safety because it brings in fresh perspectives. It’s less about who you are, and more about what expertise you’re contributing.

At WasteRecruit we recognise the importance of being agile and responding to industry needs. In fact we’re so confident in our evidenced based approach, that we’re willing to share the risk with our clients and spread the fee over a number of months. We know that the process is robust and will deliver people with the right skills, expertise and personality to fit the role. And as a result of this they’re also more likely to stay longer at the company and add more value.  If you want to find out how this can benefit your organization, please get in touch. Our team will be happy to answer your questions.