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(Editor’s Note: Today’s article is brought to you by our friends at Paycom, a leading provider of comprehensive, cloud-based human capital management software. They were named a recipient of the Learning in Practice Innovation award presented by Chief Learning Officer magazine. Congratulations! Enjoy the read.)
Psychological safety is the idea that individuals can feel safe bringing up their questions, concerns, or mistakes on the job. A few years ago, I published an article on “How to Talk About Psychological Safety in Your Organization”. In it, the focus was on developing psychological safety with your manager. Employees need to feel that they can give their manager feedback and safely share when they’ve made mistakes.
The reason we want psychological safety is because we can use it to learn and change – both at an individual and organizational level. I was reminded about psychological safety recently after listening to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) podcast on the topic.
The discussion on the podcast not only talked about how to create psychological safety but the examples were focused on learning with others, which made me think of diversity and inclusion (D&I). How many times has someone been afraid to ask a question because they don’t want to feel shame of “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you didn’t know that?!”? Or someone makes a comment on social media and because all their friends didn’t immediately “like” it, they assume it wasn’t valuable and decide not to share at that level again.
Organizations that are focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) should think about how psychological safety adds to their efforts. Because it’s more than simply having a workplace culture of trust.
Psychological Safety, Trust, and DEIB
During the HBR podcast, I really liked how one of the guests made the distinction between psychological safety and trust. Trust is about others. As in, “I trust you.” Psychological safety is about us. As in, “Everyone is trusting here. So, I can be myself.”
Trust is necessary to create psychological safety. And when everyone feels they can be themselves, inclusion, and belonging exist. If we think of psychological safety in those terms, then there are a few activities that organizations can do to create a more psychologically safe work environment and improve inclusion.
Give employees opportunities to become more self-aware. We recently talked about Maslow’s Hierarchy and the concept of self-actualization here on HR Bartender. If we want employees to feel safe and express themselves, then they need to know themselves.
Provide multiple feedback channels. It might be tempting to survey employees about their thoughts on this subject. Surveys are great but organizations that want a more inclusionary workforce need to have more than one way for employees to express feedback. Each of us has our preferred methods of communication. Employees might feel safer using one method over another. And as they learn and grow, they might expand their feedback channels.
Show appreciation for positive conversations. There’s research to show that we tend to repeat behaviors when we receive positive recognition for them. Organizations need to reinforce and recognize employees when they ask good questions or exchange valuable information. Let them know that the behavior is welcome and encouraged.
Accept responsibility for mistakes. Psychological safety isn’t about eliminating accountability. When you make a mistake, own it, and work toward resolving the matter. This is a behavior that managers specifically need to role model. When employees see their manager or senior leadership accepting responsibility for their mistakes, then they will know it’s okay to do the same.
Offer employees tools to learn. Some of the things we’ve discussed so far like self-awareness, communication, listening, feedback, etc. are behaviors that we can support with learning events. If your organization doesn’t have learning programs that include these topics, maybe it’s time to add some. Keep in mind – these behaviors are needed at every level of the organization and whether you’re working onsite, remote, or hybrid.
Inclusion Won’t Happen Without Psychological Safety
Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of conversation about “The Great Resignation” or “The Great Reprioritization” where employees and work are concerned. I know that some of the conversation is focused on compensation and benefits. But I do believe that organizations should step back as ask the question, “Is it possible that employees just want to work someplace where they can be themselves?” And if they make more money doing it…well, I’ll let you finish the sentence.
The good news is that organizations can take steps to make their workplaces more psychologically safe and inclusive. If you’d like to hear more, I’m very excited to be partnering with the Paycom team for a conversation on “Unity by Design: Creating an Inclusive Workplace”. The session will be on Tuesday, February 22, 2022, at 2p Eastern / 11a Pacific. Hope you can join us!21
I love the perception that mistakes are ok, and bad ideas can lead to good ideas.