How to add psychological safety to your wellbeing strategy

Two employees effectively collaborate with a laptop in a psychologically safe workplace
  • Date posted

    May 02, 2023

  • Estimated reading time

    5 minutes

Psychological safety at work is crucial to fostering an inclusive environment and driving success in the workplace. According to a study by Pew Research, 89% of adult workers believe that psychological safety in the workplace is essential. So why aren't all workplaces considered psychologically safe?

Creating a culture built around psychological safety is easier said than done. Many leaders realize the importance of a psychologically safe work environment, but they are unsure how to get there. As a result, employees could face difficulty succeeding in their workplace.


of adult workers believe that psychological safety in the workplace is essential.

A psychologically safe workplace benefits more than the employees. Companies often thrive when they embrace vulnerability and foster a sense of collaboration and belonging. Employees are more likely to reach their full potential when they feel empowered to speak up, learn from their mistakes, and be themselves.

It's essential that every employee can share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas without fear of being degraded or shamed. The strategies in this article are designed to help you nurture workplace wellbeing by adding psychological safety to your employee wellbeing strategy.

Know the stages of psychological safety

Understanding the stages of psychological safety is crucial for creating a safe and healthy work environment. In short, psychological safety encourages an environment where employees are comfortable revealing their ideas, questions, concerns, and even mistakes.

To establish psychological safety, it's important to recognize the stages of its development. There are four primary stages of psychological safety, provided by Timothy R. Clark in his book on the subject.

  • Stage one is Inclusion Safety: People feel accepted and valued for their contributions.
  • Stage two is Learner Safety: People feel comfortable asking questions and making mistakes.
  • Stage three is Contributor Safety: People feel safe sharing their own ideas and opinions.
  • Stage four is Challenger Safety: People feel comfortable challenging the status quo and suggesting improvements.

Understanding these stages is the first step to creating an environment where individuals feel safe to express themselves, collaborate, innovate, and ultimately contribute to the success of the organization.

Practice empathetic communication

Encouraging leaders to be more self-aware and empathetic is incredibly important to your overall wellbeing strategy. Without an intentional focus on empathetic communication, your team is unlikely to feel safe and comfortable, causing disengagement and distrust.

Managers and executives should always lead with empathy and value feedback and communication in the workplace. Avoid passive-aggressiveness, and address issues head-on while remaining supportive and kind throughout the process.

This may sound like a no-brainer. But without the right tools or training, many leaders are likely unaware of how they come off to their direct reports. Creating psychological safety at work is easier when you have a thorough understanding of the unique personalities and workstyles of each team member—including yourself.

Resources like personality assessment tools are a great way to help improve these empathetic communication skills.

By knowing how each member of their team prefers to receive feedback, leaders can collaborate more effectively. There are many personality assessments on the market. The key is knowing which one offers science-backed solutions you can follow through on.

For example, the NavigateYOU assessment integrates seamlessly with our clients’ existing wellbeing strategy. This allows them to gather data and act on the results without leaving their wellbeing platform.

Use active listening as more than a buzzword

When it comes to HR and leadership, active listening is more than nice to have. Engaging with your employees and fostering psychological safety in the workplace requires you to stop and listen.

Actively listening to your team members fosters respect and validates their concerns or contributions. Listen, ask questions, and engage to let employees know they can, and should, speak when they have ideas to contribute.

Simple as it may sound, creating a culture of active listeners promotes employee engagement and provides benefits for the business overall. A report from Gallup found that companies with higher employee engagement outperformed those with lower employee engagement. This includes an 81% difference in absenteeism, a 10% difference in customer loyalty, and a 23% difference in profitability.

Not sure how to gain buy-in for this deceptively difficult-to-learn skill? Lead by example with a straightforward baseline assessment.

Start by telling people you want to become a better listener and ask them a few simple questions. Let them know that your goal is to assess your current listening skills and identify areas where you can improve. You could even ask these questions yourself if you’re not comfortable asking others.

This approach can provide valuable insights to help you become a better listener. Here are a few examples of questions you could ask to improve:

  • When we're talking, do I appear distracted or engaged?
  • During our conversations, do I interrupt frequently, or do I listen to the entire thought?
  • When I respond, do I often paraphrase their thoughts to show that I understood their ideas, thoughts, or points?

These simple questions can help identify any gaps you could correct. Then it's all about practice and having patience with yourself or others as they improve upon the skill.

Make room for mistakes without the blame

It’s easy for team leaders to get caught up in the notion that everything at work has to run smoothly, with no bumps in the road or setbacks. But there's a delicate balance between holding employees accountable and going too far with blame and embarrassment.

In fact, research shows that a perfectionist leader can achieve the opposite of what they aim to accomplish.

Frontiers in Psychology found a negative correlation between a leader’s self-oriented perfectionism and the ability to foster interpersonal, trustworthy relationships with employees.

Perfectionism causes a barrier between leadership and the team. One where employees feel like they are constantly set up for failure.

Allowing mistakes at work is crucial for promoting psychological safety in the workplace. When employees feel safe making mistakes, they are more likely to take risks and try new things, which can lead to innovation and growth for the organization.

Without psychological safety, employees may feel afraid to take risks or share new ideas, which can stifle creativity and hinder progress. Allowing mistakes also sends a message that failure is not something to be feared or punished, but rather an opportunity to learn and improve. This can foster a culture of continuous improvement and career development, which ultimately benefits both the employee and the organization as a whole.

Honor employee preferences and embrace diversity

Not all employees will have the same preferred work styles. Foster an environment where employees feel comfortable interacting with the team in a way that's authentic to them.

A diverse and inclusive workplace is critical to fostering a genuinely safe environment where employees feel understood and valued for what they contribute and who they are.

Take time to learn about the unique experiences of your team members and remember the benefits of a more diverse workplace. If your employees don’t have anyone like themselves on the team, it becomes more challenging to speak authentically.

Specific training around diversity or psychological safety can help employees feel comfortable and protected in the workplace.

Psychological safety exercises help ensure that everyone on your team knows what psychological safety is, why it’s so important within a workplace, and how the team can apply their new knowledge to their projects.

Psychological safety training and your wellbeing strategy

Knowing how to create psychological safety in the workplace is the key to success for many businesses. The right strategies can help you improve the overall wellbeing of your employees and the company.

Psychological safety is integral to keeping employees happy and fostering an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.

Find more strategies to encourage employee retention and engagement at work in our next blog.

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