+61-409-869-664 jan@brainpotential.net
Mental Health Goals in Leadership

Psychological safety in the workplace is a topic close to my heart.  In a world where everyone is busy and nobody wants to burden anyone else, fostering a psychologically safe culture in your workplace is key to supporting your team.  Let’s explore the concept…

 

What is psychological safety in the workplace?

Psychological safety refers to a collective belief that an individual can feel safe to speak their mind, share their ideas, ask questions, voice concerns, or be themselves in an organisation without feeling judged, left out, embarrassed, or disengaged.

 

The neuroscience of psychological safety in the workplace

As a leader you will have a strong influence on the culture of your team, not only with your verbal communication but your non-verbal communication too.  There are several neurological processes that help to explain this influence.

One of these is related to the interaction between the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the basal ganglia, the limbic system, and the motor cortex.

The neural process is complicated, so in short one part (basal ganglia) sets an action to meet the desired goals (basic needs) based on previous experiences, while at the same time, another part (the amygdala and hippocampus – emotional champions and located in limbic region) evaluate the situation to determine if it is safe for the action to take place and have the power to “put on the brakes” if they feel the action could be threatening.

In essence, the brain has a build in “go” and “no-go” function.

 

The need for psychological safety in the workplace

Abraham Maslow refers to safety as the second level of need once the fundamental basic needs have been met (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, paper 1943, 1954).  Not just physical safety but economic, social, and psychological wellbeing all fall under this heading.

Rossouw (2013) states that once a leader creates a strong, safe culture as a foundation, policies and processes that stimulate thinking and foster open communication can be built upon.  A healthy, connected, and open work culture starts with you – the leader.  Open work cultures generate new thinking and at the same time provide the cushion that is needed for employees to cope with and leverage rapid change, and challenges.

The interesting thing is that we all have a different idea of what safety means to us and within each workplace, that may differ too.

 

How to create psychological safety in the workplace

First, start by talking to your team.  Make it clear that they are in a safe space to share their ideas.  An activity you may like to do with your team is this:

Ask each person to write down their own sense of safety in the following areas:

 

Physical Safety – safety from injury, from other people, environment, furniture, medical equipment, prohibited items, tools etc.

Economic Safety – feeling that you are being paid a fair amount for the work you do, that you can support yourself and your family.

Social Safety – respect of others, feeling confident, able to achieve and be your unique self.

Psychological Safety – a sense that your stress is manageable, feel that you can fully function mentally at work and that you are supported.

 

Once everyone is done writing, create an open and safe discussion where each team member shares their own ideas.  The act of doing this is a step towards a culture of psychological safety and it will also help you discover what is important to each team member so you can take steps to provide them with what they need to feel safe in the workplace.

Self-care habits also help to promote psychological safety in the workplace.  Encouraging team members to eat nutritious food, exercise and move, get quality sleep, and allow for brain relaxation will show them that you care about their wellbeing.  Employees that are fulfilling these basic self-care needs will be more resilient, more connected, more collaborative, better at problem solving, and will be more likely to “fire on all cylinders”.

Setting clear boundaries is another way to create psychological safety in the workplace.  When everyone knows what is expected, allowed, and not allowed, they can relax knowing the boundaries they are free to operate safely within.

 

What happens when people don’t feel psychologically safe in the workplace?

When someone does not feel psychologically safe in the workplace, you may notice the following:

  • Embarrassment to speak openly
  • Disengagement
  • Reluctance to share ideas
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased productivity
  • Lack of teamwork or collaboration
  • Increased absenteeism or staff turnover
  • Lack of learning and development

 

Summary

Turning your workplace into a psychologically safe place for your team has a wealth of benefits and can be achieved with small tweaks and open conversations.  Leading by example is important to create the culture you are striving for.  Don’t expect change to happen overnight but with consistency and constructive communication, you can create a culture that all team members feel safe to operate within.

 

Kind regards,

Jan Sky

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