Employer of Choice Working Group Explores Psychological Safety

The Employer of Choice Social Purpose Working Group comprises individuals from various job roles and backgrounds across the organization who share a common interest and objective: improving the working environment for all team members and enhancing our reputation as a great place to work. The group collectively identifies topics of interest and conducts in-depth discussions on these subjects during their monthly meetings. 

In a recent meeting of the Employer of Choice Working Group, led by Laura McBride and Jenny Vandehey from First Onsite, the spotlight was on the theme of Psychological Safety. You may have heard the term “psychological safety” and may be wondering what it means.  

Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. At work, it’s a shared expectation of team members that teammates will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for sharing ideas, taking risks, or soliciting feedback.  People who work in psychologically safe environments feel comfortable showing up to work as their authentic selves, they feel secure that their contributions are valued and that they can be respectfully open and honest without risk of embarrassment or punishment.  Cultivating a psychologically safe work environment begins at the top. It is essential that leadership model the behavior they wish to see from their team members. After all, the actions and behavior of the leadership team set the tone for the entire organization. 

It should come as no surprise that psychological safety at work is crucial to employee happiness, engagement and well-being. It is the foundation for a culture that fosters diversity, inclusion and belonging. It has important impacts to the bottom line as well, as it also drives team performance.

Research has shown that psychologically safe teams are more effective, more likely to remain with the organization, more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their team members and, ultimately, bring in more revenue because they are empowered.

We’ve all been in meetings where people may not feel psychologically safe. One example of this is when a presenter asks for questions or feedback and in response gets crickets. Often all it takes is one person to speak up and signal to others that it is safe to follow. 

To prep for the recent meeting, Laura shared a brief video with the group, Better Leadership and Learning with Psychological Safety, by Trevor Ragan featuring Amy Edmondson. 

This video is a must-watch if you are interested in learning more about psychological safety and how and why leaders should care about creating psychologically safe workplaces. 

What are some ways to identify whether your team members feel psychologically safe? One way is to deploy a simple, anonymous survey asking team members to rate their level of agreement (strongly agree to strongly disagree) to four statements: 

  • I feel included 
  • I feel safe to learn 
  • I feel safe to contribute 
  • I feel safe to challenge the status quo  

Here are a few things leaders can do to foster a psychologically safe environment: 

  • Model vulnerability to build psychological safety. Think about the actions you want to see more of from the people around you and find ways of putting those actions on display.  It might be as simple as a leader asking their team members, “how can I be better for you?” Being open and vulnerable creates trust and helps the team member feel more comfortable doing the same. 
  • Show your team you’re engaged. Use active listening skills. Eliminate distractions in meetings (shut your laptop, don’t look at your email or phone) and ask questions to make sure you understand the other person’s ideas or thoughts. One way to show understanding is by recapping what they’ve shared. Along with your engagement, encourage participation from all team members. Make it clear that you value everyone’s input. If someone hasn’t participated, asking for their thoughts or opinions makes them feel included. 
  • Give people space to talk. Resist the urge to immediately respond with your own perspective or story and instead encourage your team member to keep talking and share more. This validation will encourage them to share again in the future. 
  • Encourage self-awareness. We all have different work styles and preferences. Share how you work best and prefer to communicate and encourage your team to do the same. 
  • Never assume competency. Something that may seem obvious to you may be foreign to someone who is new to a role or task. Instead of assuming they know what to do, ask if they have ever done anything like this before or whether they are familiar with the concept. This opens the door for them to ask questions and for you to provide additional context and support. 
  • Avoid blaming to build trust. We all know things don’t always go as planned. When something doesn’t, asking what happened and why can be counterproductive to fostering psychological safety. Instead, try using collaborating language to ask “how can we make sure this goes smoothly next time.”
  • Reframe mistakes as learning opportunities. Feeling safe to take risks is a core tenet of psychological safety, and if people are afraid to fail they won’t take risks. We all make mistakes, and learning from them is what helps us grow. When leaders acknowledge what they’ve done wrong or could have done better, team members will feel more at ease doing the same. Reframe mistakes or failure as valuable learning opportunities. Encourage team members to take carefully considered risks, where the pros and cons have been weighed, and contingency plans are considered in advance. 
  •  Seek input from your team in decision making. Where possible, include your team in the decision making process by seeking their thoughts, ideas and feedback. This will help increase engagement and promote psychological safety. 
  • Bookend your meetings by stating clear expectations. At the start of the meeting, let the team know what your expectations are for the meeting and any tasks you’ll be discussing. At the end of the meeting, revisit the expectations to confirm clear understanding and/or to reset any of them if necessary. 

We hope you enjoyed this introduction to psychological safety in the workplace.  

Want to learn more? Here are some suggested resources you might find helpful: 


The Fearless Organization, Amy Edmonson 

Crucial Conversations, Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler 


Failing Well, a podcast with Simon Sinek and Amy Edmonson