We all have the right to feel safe at work. While many discussions about safety in the workplace are rightfully centred around physical health and safety, they should be expanded to cover psychological safety at work too.

Do you feel safe mentally when you speak up and bring light to an issue?

Does the idea of making mistakes at work, big or small, fill you with dread?

Would you rather do anything than deliver bad news to your boss?

If so, you may not be working in a psychologically safe workplace.

As we move into an era of workplaces that truly value and care for proper mental health care, we need to consider the role work plays in maintaining this.

Less than half (43%) of workers still feel uncomfortable speaking to their line managers about their mental health.

9 in 10 CEOs are concerned about employees having the mental strength to respond to changes.

Embracing psychological safety at work can help us all feel more confident in our roles and fix mistakes more rapidly when they do occur. Let’s break down the concept of psychological safety and lay out why it is so important for modern workplaces.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is the belief that it is safe to take necessary risks at work, and no one will be punished for speaking up or challenging the status quo.

The term was first coined by Professor Amy Edmonson in the late 1990s. It basically gives space to team members to voice opinions and thoughts without being challenged or punished socially for their ideas. When we partake in a group activity like brainstorming, we tend to get in a rhythm of throwing out ideas rapidly. Naturally, some of these will be poor. No one throws out a winning idea on the first try.

Creating a working environment where we feel comfortable taking on these interpersonal risks is not a change that will happen overnight. Still, all organisations should strive to move in this direction.

Why is psychological safety important?

To put it simply, psychologically safe work environments are not places where people make fewer mistakes, but they are places where people are not afraid of their mistakes.

This can help to create a team culture where everyone feels comfortable and supported. Team members are not afraid to add their voice to a discussion, and they certainly won’t keep quiet when they see something that they know could be changed for the better.

So often we make the mistake of trying to establish a certain way of work in a business. However, by not allowing anyone space to bring their own ideas to the table, we can actually end up stifling employees. Creativity can be shoved on the back burner and energy is directed to not rocking the boat rather than driving change.

The effects of this are felt far and wide. 25% of employees feel like they don’t belong at work. Team effectiveness and performance are impacted. No one feels comfortable offering creative ideas. When a mistake is made, more energy is put towards admitting that mistake than taking steps to fix it or ensure it can never happen again.

Psychologically safe teams do not have to worry about this.

They can focus on delivering the business outcomes expected of them, knowing that they are safe to take risks and try something new if it can deliver results.

Team collaboration in a bright office: a group of colleagues engage in a productive meeting around a wooden table, sharing ideas and working together with a positive and friendly vibe.

What does a psychologically safe work environment look like?

Fostering psychological safety should be a priority for many workplaces. However, since this is something that needs to change over time, changes might not necessarily be immediately obvious. Leadership should look for changes in their team’s work and dynamics. Small shifts in attitude towards the challenges faced as a team could indicate that a culture of psychological safety is beginning to develop.

Calculated risks

Risk-taking isn’t always looked at favourably in some industries, but the truth is that without risk, we wouldn’t have made any progress. If a team member feels comfortable taking risks, while being well aware of what could go wrong and what is needed to offset this negative impact, they should be encouraged and supported in their decision.

Learning that it is safe to take risks can be a long process, but it should be supported by management. Though reckless decisions should be avoided, there is no reason why a well-thought-out risk should not be tried if it has the potential to deliver dividends.

Confident decisions

A great indicator of psychological safety in the workplace is team members making confident decisions. Whether it is risk-taking or just trying to reach a conclusion at the end of a long meeting, the ability to make confident decisions in the workplace can be freeing.

Actively choosing to create psychological safety at work gives employees the protection they need to step forward and make these crucial decisions. They know that they will be protected even if everything does not play out as they envision, and they know that they have leadership’s support too.

High esteem

When workplaces take the time to foster psychological safety, they will notice the esteem of their employees rising too. An employee who can own mistakes and approach a decision with confidence will naturally begin to develop high esteem and confidence.

They will trust their own judgement, and will hopefully be able to demonstrate better emotional intelligence rather than let this development turn to arrogance. Team dynamics will be better as members form closer interpersonal relationships and learn how to work together more efficiently.

48% of respondents to one survey said that work even improved their confidence or sense of self. This should be the type of workplace that leadership strives for – one where all of their team members know their worth.

What is NOT psychological safety at work?

If we want to successfully promote psychological safety, we also need to ensure that we know what this behaviour does not look like. Just as there are plenty of ways in which we can build psychological safety, so are there behaviours we can engage in that will not create this mindset.


Groupthink is a peculiar psychological phenomenon where groups accept a viewpoint or conclusion as being a consensus when some members of the group might not actually believe the conclusion to be the right one. This, obviously, is not a true consensus.

Though reaching a consensus might seem like the perfect outcome, it can’t be considered a viable path forward if some members of the team have doubts. If they do not feel like they can present a challenge to this consensus, they are not operating in a psychologically safe environment.

Acceptance of poor behaviour

There is no excuse for laziness, incompetence, and general mismanagement in the world of business. Even in a team that is actively building psychological safety, these behaviours should not be present. They will only result in team performance dropping and outcomes being ignored, even if the behaviour is only seen from one employee.

If an employee is struggling, either with their workload or some other factor, emphasis should be placed on helping them to better manage their burdens. Leadership should address the underlying issues causing the mismanagement over punishing the employee for any wrongs they might have caused.

Not of benefit to traditionally high-stress industries

High-performing teams in traditionally pressurised and stressful industries – healthcare, education, and technology to name a few – might think that there is no room for psychological safety in their workplace. In theory, these are all industries where mistakes should not be made in the first place.

However, this does not change the fact that errors will still occur. The aim should be to create a culture where workers can freely admit mistakes. This allows mistakes to be rectified as soon as they occur. It also opens employees up to taking safe and calculated risks that could lead to breakthroughs in the wider industry.

3 change leaders in a meeting

How can leaders create psychologically safe workplaces?

Psychological safety at work can take many forms, and it might look slightly different from one team to the next. Just as there are multiple ways of managing a team, so are there different techniques that can be used to maintain psychological safety.

The ultimate aim is to steer away from a potentially toxic work culture. Measures introduced into the workplace by leadership can include:

1. Create equal involvement in meetings

Give everyone the chance to speak up during meetings. It can be intimidating to raise concerns or offer alternative opinions during a team meeting, but if employees feel free to do so, they can often become more confident and resolute in their decisions. Rather than second-guess themselves, they feel comfortable sharing their opinions even if doing so will bring them into disagreement with someone much higher in the company.

2. Promote no-blame cultures

No-blame cultures do not punish mistakes, but instead look to why they might have happened. We all make mistakes, some big and some small. A no-blame culture will recognise that everyone makes mistakes.

Fostering a no-blame culture can boost a team’s psychological safety as they know that they are not going to get into trouble for any mistakes made. This should hopefully mean that they will report them faster. Not only will this bring attention to the mistake and lessen its impact, but it can also bring awareness to whatever allowed the mistake to happen in the first place. If processes need to be adjusted, they can be done easily.

3. Encourage employee-directed learning

Employers should always seek to empower their workers to shape their careers how they see fit. Building psychological safety is vital to many in the early stages of their careers as it reassures them that they can pursue whatever opportunities they wish.

Employees who are expected to stick to the tasks in their job description and never branch out will quickly be left feeling stagnant and unhappy. This can then, unfortunately, feed into poor employee retention as they leave to discover greener pastures elsewhere. Let employees dictate where their development should happen and what it should look like.

4. Build self-awareness

Encourage employees to develop their emotional intelligence and become aware of how the ways they work affect the people around them. By building a little self-awareness, employees can be more in tune with both themselves and each other. This can help to build psychological safety as employees have the opportunity to share how they would like to be communicated with and supported.

As an employer, you can choose to support this by asking employees to fill out behavioural assessments. When honestly answered, these tests can give us so many insights into how we work. Results can often be cross-referenced with other team members too. This can aid the effective development of interpersonal relationships as everyone better knows one another’s boundaries.

5. Be open to feedback

In a psychologically safe workplace, team members should feel comfortable enough to share feedback with colleagues, managers, and leadership.

Feedback is one of the most useful metrics we have to grow and change. Constructive criticism should never feel like an attack against someone’s character or work habits, and it should serve to provide reflection and positive behavioural changes.

Group of joyful colleagues sharing a light moment over coffee in a sunny office environment.

Create psychological safety at work for your team

Management needs to play a key role in team psychological safety. Though leadership styles can differ team by team and leader by leader, there is still plenty of room within that to build psychological safety and create work teams that your employees want to participate in.

Focus your efforts around creating a safe environment for employees, and they will naturally want to share and try new ideas.

Mental health issues are only on the rise, and employers need to start offering solutions that work for their employees. Ensuring there are safe spaces for employees to express themselves professionally will aid retention rates and can help workers feel truly valued.

Let ChangingPoint help your company build psychological safety. Our Personal Impact Leadership Programme is designed to break habits and challenge attitudes that might be entrenched deep in organisational culture.

By overcoming the discomfort of disagreement, leaders can begin to create psychological safety in the workplace that the full team can benefit from. Book a discovery call today.

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Written by Jayne Ruff

Jayne Ruff, Occupational Psychologist & Managing Director at ChangingPoint. To find out more about how ChangingPoint can help you align minds to transform your business, get in touch.

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