Why Invest in Psychological Safety?
A Psychologically Safe workplace: a climate where individuals feel safe to take interpersonal risks, have clarity in their job role, have appropriate independence in their role and feel valued and supported by their manager and colleagues. But why should you invest?
In almost every workplace, teamwork is important. As put concisely by Steve Jobs: “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” Employers often consider the quality of individuals within the team to be the most important factor for team performance. And they are right – to some degree. Teams certainly need talent, skill and drive to succeed. However, it is only if these individuals can work effectively together, that a team can truly perform. It’s how teams treat each other that matters.
So where does Psychological Safety fit in? Psychological Safety enables individuals to speak up and share ideas, concerns or questions, without fear of embarrassment or discrimination. Team members value one another. Team members say they are valued for their contribution by their manager. In order for teams to perform to their optimum, Psychological Safety is crucial.
So what are the benefits?
In safety critical environments, such as in healthcare, travel, or construction, which often depend on high levels of concentration, focus, and strong judgement skills, one needs individuals who operate optimally, and who are able to raise safety concerns without fear of retribution. It is often in environments where physical safety is of most concern that Psychological Safety should be too.
Take healthcare for instance. Hierarchical structures and relationships are very common and lower level employees may fear questioning their superiors when they notice something is (or potentially is) inappropriate or could be done more safely. When considering patient safety, this can lead to consequences as severe as serious harm or death.
- Attendance levels are higher
Employees have a strong sense of purpose, value and recognition, appropriate autonomy (independence to make decisions) and work relationships are positive and constructive. Put simply: they want to come to work.
- Discretionary Effort and Quality
Discretionary Effort: otherwise known as ‘going the extra mile’. Feeling valued in the workplace is a significant driver for employees to exercise discretionary effort. Conversely, an employee who feels their efforts go unnoticed may only meet the minimum level of contribution. If quality is dependent on going the extra mile then creating the right psychological environment is essential.
- Recruitment and Retention
People want to join an environment where staff are positive, feel valued and speak highly of their work and their leaders. In psychologically safe work places, highly skilled individuals want to stay.
- Cost benefits
In 2015 the cost of UK absence exceeded £15 billion. Of this, approximately 50% is psychological in its cause. Presenteeism, that is coming to work but not performing, cost the UK economy £16 billion. Creating psychologically safe places to work is a significant part of reducing this number. Think of your organisation. Do you struggle with absence and lower levels of productivity than you desire?
Many organisations are already recognising the importance of Psychological Safety. Google highlighted it as the most important factor in producing a high performing team in their two year long quest ‘Project Aristotle’. NB Power, Canadian Construction Company and winners of the 2016 Canadian Psychological Safety Award, recognise the importance of Psychological Safety in ensuring physical safety at work by employing the ‘We Don’t Need a Better Hard Hat campaign”. And in the UK, Sir Robert Francis, Chair of the “Freedom to Speak Up” review has highlighted the importance of Psychological Safety for the future of the NHS.
Psychological Safety has been shown to influence safety, Wellbeing, absence costs, presenteeism, discretionary effort and employee turnover, as well as the overriding team and organisational performance and atmosphere. So perhaps the question really is: can you afford not to invest in Psychological Safety?