Mental Health Awareness Week is a key feature of May’s calendar with events and social media posts highlighting the need to look after our mental health. One of the things that is important for our mental health is to feel psychologically safe in the environments we live and work in. So, what does this mean? Why is it important? And how can you create more psychological safety in your own working life and that of others?
What is psychological safety?
Before we go any further, let’s explore the concept of psychological safety itself. Simply put, psychological safety is about experiencing a sense of openness and trust with the people you are surrounded by. It’s also about how you offer that to others, helping them to feel safe, supported and trusted in the workplace.
Providing psychological safety at work encompasses thinking about how you communicate, how you build relationships within your teams, and how you deal with setbacks or conflict.
So why is this important? Research has found that in teams with low psychological safety, people are less willing or able to speak up and contribute, for fear of negative repercussions, judgment or shame. This may be in meetings, one to ones and reviews, or even just generally in the office. This impact on peer-to-peer relationships is critical when it comes to thinking about mental health. Knowing that others have our back and will listen to us if we have a problem is important. In fact, research has shown that in organisations where there are strong social ties between employees, sickness rates, retention, engagement and productivity is higher. We would suggest that making friends at work is not just a nice to have!
Furthermore, the consequences of keeping quiet when things are going wrong can be costly. For some organisations this may be the difference between survival and bankruptcy, for others, such as in healthcare, it may cost someone their life! Finding ways to create psychological safety so that mistakes can be used as opportunities for growth and learning from, errors of judgement identified and difficult conversations aired may be the difference in survival in more ways than one.
Additionally, the silence generated by feeling psychologically UNsafe means that your team could be missing out on some of its best ideas! When your people don’t feel able to contribute to team meetings, collaborate on projects fully or feel able to express their views and opinions you’ll end up with stale, top-down ideas, rather than allowing true, generative creativity to percolate throughout your team.
The worst part of all of this is that silence is, well, silent. Meaning you won’t even know that people are keeping quiet. It’s a failure of the team and management that’s hard to even detect – you can’t tell if your people are quiet on an issue because they agree with the current direction of travel, or if they’re unwilling to speak up with their own ideas.
The only solution is to ensure that your team feels psychologically safe to speak up and own their own ideas whenever they can.
The benefits of psychological safety
Psychological safety isn’t just about allowing your people to speak up about their problems, though. It’s got serious benefits for productivity and creativity.
A study at Google found that psychological safety was the key attribute that they identified as a marker for the best and most productive teams within their organisation.
Why is this? Well, it’s because psychological safety allows for greater risk-taking, better diversity of ideas, and ultimately more creative teams. Creating teams where your people trust each other and are confident in putting their ideas forward means creating teams more able to find creative solutions.
It also means creating teams with more resilience to overcome adversity, more open-mindedness to explore new ways of working and thinking and could even help improve metrics like turnover and productivity.
How to foster psychological safety in your teams
So, now you know all about psychological safety and the benefits it could bring to your team, how do you go about creating or fostering it?
The short answer here is that there isn’t a one size fits all solution I’m afraid!. There are lots of different ways to improve psychological safety, and the ones that will work for some teams won’t work for others. Different management styles and different people will mean some teams will need different ways of working to develop the psychological safety they need.
However, the basic principle is about open and honest communication, and not apportioning blame in the event of a failure or problem.
Here are a few quick ways to help improve psychological safety in your team:
- Advocate for curiosity – Encourage your people to explore problems creatively and think outside the established patterns
- Treat problems as opportunities for collaboration – If issues or mistakes do crop up, take time to go over process improvements that could help in future
- Communicate openly – Be as honest as possible, as often as you can
- Ask for feedback – Encourage your team to give feedback on your management style
- Create safe spaces for discussion – Offer plenty of space for discussion and collaboration
One method that is gaining traction in healthcare is the implementation of Schwartz Rounds. Initially designed to help healthcare staff deal with the emotional labour of care research has shown that not only does a Schwartz round help reduce burnout and compassion fatigue but it helps improve collaboration, understanding and psychological safety across an organisation. Something that many other organisations outside of healthcare are looking to achieve!
As a mentor for the Point of Care Foundation, one of The Thrive Lab Directors, Amy, is also involved with helping to support organisations run Schwartz rounds effectively. She says, “Attending a Schwartz round never fails to move me. Some of the stories shared seem so simple and yet can spark conversation, thinking and emotions in others that help us to all feel connected, more heard and less alone. The power of connection, story telling and being heard in our struggle to be human is both humbling and profound.”
Our solution – Connect, Pause, Reset
Here at The Thrive Lab, we offer facilitated sessions specifically designed to improve psychological safety amongst teams. We call it C.P.R for teams: offering space to Connect, Pause and Reset.
It’s all about reducing stress, anxiety and fear. Our bespoke sessions are designed around the needs of your people and can really help foster a sense of trust and safety in your teams, ultimately improving creativity and productivity.