Why Psychological Safety Should Be at the Center of Every Culture and How Leaders Can Make It Happen

Why Psychological Safety Should Be at the Center of Every Culture and How Leaders Can Make It Happen

BlueEQ™ Staff

Today’s business headlines are daunting for leaders. The tightest job market since 1969* (WSJ Nov15, 2018), Sexual harassment costing companies millions (EEOC), Millennial turnover costing the U.S. economy $30.5 Billion annually (Gallup), employee engagement at an all-time low (Gallup). With everything going on in companies today, it is more important than ever for leaders to create environments where employees feel ‘safe’. The good news for leaders is that when employees feel ‘safe’ the company thrives.

Psychological Safety is defined as an environment where people feel free to take interpersonal risk. They are comfortable asking questions, learning from mistakes, challenging the status quo and fostering constructive debate. Research shows that people who work in an ‘unsafe’ zone are more likely to decrease work effort, have lower quality output, take out frustration on customers and seek alternative employment. Managers have every incentive to make psychological safety the center of their corporate culture but how do they do it?

First, leaders recognize that it starts at the top. The skills necessary to create psychological safety are best learned by modeling. Whether consciously or unconsciously, people model the behaviors they see coming from the C-Suite. Studies show that even employees who dislike behaviors associated with management will copy those same behaviors when they become managers rather than break the negative patterns. Once the behaviors are copied by others they become a norm and taken together these norms, maybe more so than expressly stated cultures, become the dominant culture of an organization. Leaders who can create a psychologically safe zone through their own actions will begin to see it modeled throughout the organization.

Second, leaders need to be proactive in creating a safe culture throughout their organization. The Global C-Suite Study 2017 by researchers at IBM found that executives from leading companies were significantly more focused on developing people and cultures, compared to their counterparts. An additional finding of the study was that the importance of ‘people skills’ was the biggest single riser in the survey. Business leaders are recognizing that given the nature of today’s job market, people skills, previously considered ‘soft skills’ are more highly valued than they were in the past and need to be a primary focus for successful companies. As companies focus on basic emotional intelligence skills, these skills will increase, creating the psychological safety necessary for companies to thrive.

Once leaders can create a safe environment, many workplace challenges will be mitigated. High Psychological safety correlates positively with retention rates, employee engagement, the ability to absorb change, and the open communication necessary to resolve employee conflict. Once psychological safety becomes the dominant culture for an organization, leaders can leverage the higher levels of engagement and increase their competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.

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