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Psychological Safety in the Workplace: All we Need?

By Amanda Lopes Pacca

PsychologyAtWork.blog promoted a BeTalent session about psychological safety, exciting aspects, exercises, and breakout rooms that make the participants think outside the box about such an important subject. The session was hosted by Dr Amanda Potter, Tina McCarty and Cleme Lewis, and explored some of the unique challenges of driving psychological safety in a hybrid working environment. But for those who could not come, let’s summarise a little bit the main aspects of the event to give you the possibility of realizing this essential construct.

And as I know, this post will leave you with more questions than answers, which is ideal in the world of psychology – where there are no absolute truths, but attempts at a profound expansion of knowledge – in search of individual, collective, and world well-being. But in this case, we will deal with safety in the workplace, so what is psychological safety?

According to Amy Edmondson (1999), it is a climate at work where individuals feel comfortable and free to speak up, as they feel that the work environment receives their voice in a good way and there is permission for candour.

But looking to the real world, we realize that not all environments are conducive to interpersonal risk. In some cases, professionals are encouraged to expose themselves; in others not. However, the reaction to this exposure often does not make them feel safe to continue the action and do it again. In this sense, the climate that is generated is not safe.

According to Edgar Schein, Warren Bennis, and Amy Edmondson, psychological safety could be linked to business impact. Since it increases engagement and high performance, enhancing different learning and knowledge sharing mechanisms, innovation, employee well-being, problem-solving, error reporting, and a sense of belonging.

Imagine all these as positive consequences in the organizational environment of individual and group decisions, of human actions that promote the climate of psychological safety and allow everyone to benefit from that state.

As Psychological Safety is a climate, it is also related to culture, as the organization’s values and norms define the climate. However, changing culture is challenging, as it takes years to develop. It is important to think long-term and work every day to make changes in culture if necessary. However, it is also essential to think short-term, which comprises the climate- the employees’ perceptions or feelings about the work environment. In a way, long-term changes occurred through habits developed in the present and carried out every day in the short term. This dynamic of present and future time intertwines and works together within the organizational environment.

But as the climate is associated with people’s feelings, he could change quickly. That is the importance of psychological safety and an open environment where employees can feel that they have a voice to express themselves and that they are heard. This climate is not about saying what the employee wants to hear and being complacent. The truth is the real path and the best way to help someone- and sometimes are not “nice.” But they are necessary for the growth of the individual and the organization itself.

Sharing different experiences and communicating is important to understand how people feel and want to be listened to, the needed changes, and new ways of bringing this psychological safety at the workplace.

BeTalent is a management consulting specializing in Talent platform, products, and assessments with a model of psychological safety discussed in the event. In that model, with the division in teams where psychological safety exists and not, it is possible to realize different characteristics such as courage, inclusion, trust, and appreciation to each other versus seeking consistency, being nice all the time, having relentless expectations, etc.

The fact is that human beings are complex, and not everything is “black and white.” When we approach the universe of the human mind in psychology, we have to understand that nothing is simple. The creation of a psychological safety environment for the teams demands action. According to BeTalent, it comprises challenging your assumptions, asking why, and asking about the wider consequences.

That means that the individual has to act through it and have an open mind to learn and not be afraid of failure or even “asking silly questions.” The fact is: to express your feelings and be truthful with yourself and your beliefs; there are no silly questions- just important ones. And the first one to know that should be the owner of the questions- yourself. Also, if you ask, maybe more people will be encouraged to do so, changing the climate and consequently the psychological safety at the workplace. You can be an essential person to contribute. Don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen and for the company to offer you that climate of safety. Use the power of your action and your daily choices to help build an environment in which you can live in a psychologically comfortable way.

About the Author

Amanda Lopes Pacca

Amanda is a final year student of the WOP-P Master in Work, Organizational and Personnel Psychology. Brazilian by birth, her journey into psychology began before she graduated, at the age of 17, when she came into contact with Psychoanalysis. From then on, her passion for understanding the human mind expanded, and she graduated in Psychological Sciences at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. In her last year to become an occupational psychologist, her topics of interest cross all human nature, including leadership, psychological empowerment, emotional health, and mental problems. Her hope of contributing to the blog is that this vast universe of psychology could be accessible to as many people as possible through writing. Psychology has a long past but a short history. In this sense, psychology professionals owe it to the world of psychology and its precious knowledge to expand that so more people can think better about themselves, the world, and their desires.