Have you ever been afraid to speak up at work? I certainly have. In fact, I’ve been shamed, humiliated, and reprimanded for it – all because I had the gall to stand up for myself. Burnout quickly settled in, soon followed by resentment, extreme anxiety, and tanking self-worth.
This culture of silence is a big reason why managers impact employee mental health more than doctors, therapists, or spouses. No wonder people leave managers, not companies.
If “talking it out” is the best way to overcome workplace challenges, then employees must feel comfortable sharing ideas and voicing their concerns. But it’s not enough for leaders to encourage their direct reports to speak up; There’s a better solution: fostering a people-centric culture grounded in psychological safety.
Feeling valued, cared for, and heard drew me to evolvedMD in 2021, but I never knew what psychological safety entailed until my manager, Sentari Minor, scheduled our first exercise and explained the mindset. It turns out that it was the best thing for me to grow and fortify my mental health.
What is psychological safety? Why should leaders care?
Me and Sentari Minor, VP of Strategy + Chief of Staff
Psychological safety is the belief that employees won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. “Belief” only holds so much weight, though; leaders must go beyond belief and adopt psychological safety as a mindset they carry day in and day out.
Why? If leaders expect peak performance and genuine engagement, their people need to feel valued, cared for, and heard. If they don’t, employers risk joining the ranks of companies that suffer annual losses of $600 billion from employee turnover.
Instead, companies enjoy more favorable outcomes when fostering psychological safety:
- 76% more engagement
- 74% less stress
- 50% more productivity
- 27% reduction in turnover
- 29% more life satisfaction
These advantages create a thriving and productive environment in which employees, leaders, and companies as a whole flourish.
How does psychological safety work?
Adopting psychological safety as a mindset means consistently fostering an environment where individuals feel safe to express themselves, take risks, make mistakes, and learn and grow together. When psychological safety becomes an integral part of your team's culture, it paves the way for increased innovation, collaboration, and overall well-being. It's a continuous effort that requires ongoing support and reinforcement to ensure lasting positive outcomes.
Although human relationships, especially between manager and employee, can be complicated, psychological safety is simple to implement. If you’re a leader, follow these steps:
- Schedule one-on-one time with your employee(s). Thirty minutes to an hour is sufficient.
- Have your employee fill out the seven questions below, with you in mind, at least one week in advance.
- Enjoy an open, judgment-free discussion with your direct report(s) during your scheduled time. Give them the floor to work through each of their answers.
- Address concerns and arrive at solutions together.
What I’ve gained from practicing psychological safety with my manager
If you’ve never heard of the Predictive Index, it’s a tool we use at evolvedMD to uphold our commitment to providing an exceptional employee experience. It gives us deep insights into our leaders and employees, who they are, how they work, where each may need extra support given differences in personality and working styles, and how to best work together for success.
My manager, Sentari, and I are polar opposite profiles: He’s a Maverick and I’m an Operator. Candidly, I was terrified for our first psychological safety exercise. I thought I would fall into another trap like I had in the past; that it was nothing more than a way for him to get dirt on me and sniff out the slightest ounce of incompetence or opposition. However, the Predictive Index set the tone with four different stages of psychological safety and how to incorporate them into our discussions.
To date, across four psychological safety exercises, we’ve brushed all four stages:
- Stage 1 – Inclusion Safety: Addressing my imposter syndrome; whether I belong in a rapidly growing startup
- Stage 2 – Learner Safety: Authentically exchanging feedback to learn how a Maverick and Operator can meet in the middle to accomplish a shared goal
- Stage 3 – Contributor Safety: Confidently speaking to contributions, achievements, and celebrating small and large wins
- Stage 4 – Challenger Safety: Discussing workload stressors, differing points of view on particular conflicts, and establishing that psychological safety is a two-way street
Altogether, I’ve enjoyed these key benefits from our psychological safety exercises:
- Decreased anxiety about speaking up and voicing concerns
- Addressing trauma from previous workplace experiences with reassurance that similar situations will not occur at evolvedMD
- Boost in productivity and confidence in my role and contributions
- Learning to prioritize my well-being, personal growth, and professional development
- Earning my first-ever promotion
Ultimately, without psychological safety, I have no doubt that our working relationship would have gone the distance.
Daily Behaviors for Effective Leadership and a Psychologically Safe Workplace
Part of adopting a psychological safety mindset is exhibiting and modeling specific behaviors. Here are some behaviors that leaders can exhibit every day:
- Demonstrate Active Listening: Give your undivided attention and listen to what team members say without interruption or judgment.
- Practice Open and Honest Communication: Create a safe space for sharing ideas, concerns, and feedback. Remember, this goes both ways.
- Embrace Mistakes: Foster a culture that views mistakes as learning opportunities, not grounds for punishment or humiliation.
- Treat Feedback as a Gift: Provide specific feedback focused on behavior and performance in a supportive manner, helping your team elevate their skills and contribute effectively to your team.
- Support Personal and Professional Development: Providing opportunities for learning, development, and advancement will encourage your team to take on new challenges, expand their skills, and feel valued and cared for.
Great. How do I start implementing psychological safety at my organization?
Join us for Mental Health Action Day!
On May 18th, we’re moving from awareness to action by encouraging all evolvedMD managers and employees, as well as our external supporters, to practice psychological safety.
If you’d like to take action with evolvedMD, follow these steps:
- Sign this Psychological Safety Pledge and send it to email@example.com. If you have trouble e-signing it, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org to say, "I, [Your First Name], pledge to practice psychological safety with my employee(s) as part of my commitment to supporting my team's mental health."
- Send your employee(s) the seven questions above one week before your psychological safety meeting.
- Show up with an open mind and discuss your employee(s) answers and work together toward solutions.
Commit to Psychological Safety on Mental Health Action Day