When employees feel psychologically unsafe—that is, they are afraid of being shamed, undermined, or penalized if they express concern about aspects of their work or work environment—they are more likely to look for new employment. In this article, experienced human resources professional, Ron Cardenas, shares how to lower turnover by creating a sense of psychological safety at work.
What is psychological safety?
In the workplace, psychological safety is a belief shared by the entire team that their coworkers and leaders will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for speaking up. It is a feeling that each individual's ideas are essential and will be given full consideration.
Feeling psychologically safe helps people be comfortable being authentic and enables them to open up and be creative in their thinking. It is a crucial element of realizing satisfaction at work.
Why do employees need psychological safety?
Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working. How they feel about their work is second only to their health and interpersonal relationships when defining quality of life.
If employees feel unappreciated and ignored at work, they are much more likely to seek employment elsewhere. Creating an environment where each employee believes they can be themselves and express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas without recrimination is undoubtedly one of the most impactful things a leader can do.
How to promote psychological safety
According Ron Cardenas, creating a psychologically safe work environment doesn't just happen—it takes work. Here are four ideas to help managers lower turnover by creating a psychologically safe workplace for all employees.
1. Make creating a psychologically safe work environment a priority; only those discussed and exemplified at the highest levels ever propagate throughout an organization. It's not enough to mention it occasionally or give the idea of lip service without displaying behavior from leadership that others can emulate.
2. Show genuine curiosity and respect toward the ideas of everyone in the organization. Ask for opinions—repeatedly. It will take time for employees to trust that their ideas will be valued, but over time they can come to learn that managers genuinely want to know what's on their minds.
3. Constructive conflict promotes creativity. If all the employees in anorganization feel that whatever the boss says goes, they will hesitate to express other ideas. No employer or manager is always right, and if no one is willing to challenge them, innovative improvement is stifled. Effective managers value, even solicit, opposing ideas and opinions.
4. Trust is earned over time. Stick with your efforts to create psychological safety for your team. Employees must learn that leadership is genuine. If a culture of respecting the opinions of others has not been dominant in an organization, it may take longer for old wounds to heal and for employees to trust that there will not be a penalty to pay for speaking up.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of creating a psychologically safe work environment for your employees. Reducing turnover is only the beginning. An increase in innovation, more creativity, and additional productivity are all byproducts of psychological safety.
About Ron Cardenas
Ron Cardenas is the Vice Presidentof Human Resources at an agriculture holdings company in Omaha, Nebraska. He is a versatile Human Resources professional with over 30 years of domestic and international experience. His track record includes creating and launching talent strategies for global organizations in varied industries.