employee well-being

Psychological Safety at Work: Fostering Growth, Trust, and Performance

Psychological Safety at Work: Fostering Growth, Trust, and Performance


In today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive business landscape, organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of creating an environment where employees feel safe to express themselves without fear of criticism or reprisal. This concept is known as psychological safety, and it plays a vital role in promoting collaboration, innovation, and overall employee well-being. In this article, we will delve into the depths of psychological safety at work, exploring its definition, why some leaders may be afraid of it, the barriers that hinder its establishment, and whether it truly hinders performance.

What is Psychological Safety: Beyond Fear of Criticism

Psychological safety refers to the belief that one can express their opinions, ideas, and concerns without the fear of negative consequences such as criticism, punishment, or rejection. It encompasses a sense of trust, openness, and mutual respect within a team or organization. Psychological safety encourages individuals to take risks, share diverse perspectives, and engage in constructive discussions, ultimately fostering an environment of innovation and learning.

Why Some Leaders Are Afraid of Psychological Safety

While psychological safety is widely acknowledged as beneficial, some leaders may feel apprehensive about fully embracing it. One primary reason is the fear of losing control. These leaders may worry that by allowing open dialogue and differing opinions, it could lead to chaos, dissent, or a loss of authority. Additionally, leaders who prioritize short-term results over long-term growth might view psychological safety as a potential hindrance to productivity, as it requires time and effort to build trust and nurture a safe environment.

Barriers to Psychological Safety

Several barriers can impede the establishment of psychological safety within a workplace. One common barrier is a lack of trust among team members. When trust is low, employees may hesitate to speak up, fearing that they will face disregard or the use of their opinions against them. Another barrier is a hierarchical organizational culture that discourages dissenting opinions or discourages challenging the status quo. Additionally, a lack of clear communication channels and feedback mechanisms can make employees uncertain about where to voice their concerns or ideas, hindering psychological safety.

Does Psychological Safety Hinder Performance?

Psychological Safety at Work: Fostering Growth, Trust, and Performance

Research has found that psychological safety positively impacts performance. It indicates that a safe environment for risk-taking, idea-sharing, and mistake-making without punishment fosters innovative thinking and problem-solving. Psychological safety fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment among employees, leading to increased motivation, collaboration, and productivity. Furthermore, it fosters learning from failures and continuous improvement, essential for organizational growth and adaptation in today’s dynamic business environment.

Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace:

  1. Foster Trust: Build trust among team members by promoting open communication, active listening, and demonstrating empathy. Encourage team-building activities and create opportunities for personal connections.
  2. Lead by Example: Leaders must model psychological safety by actively seeking input, encouraging diverse perspectives, and responding constructively to feedback and ideas. Encourage healthy debate and avoid punitive behavior or negative reactions to dissenting views.
  3. Establish Clear Expectations: Communicate clear guidelines on respectful communication, encourage questions and curiosity, and emphasize that mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth.
  4. Encourage Feedback: Create feedback mechanisms that enable employees to provide anonymous suggestions, share concerns, or raise issues without fear of retribution. Regularly seek feedback from employees to demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement.
  5. Promote Learning Culture: Encourage continuous learning and skill development by providing resources, training opportunities, and recognition for personal growth. Celebrate and learn from both successes and failures.


Psychological safety at work is a critical component of a thriving and innovative workplace. By creating an environment where individuals feel safe to express their thoughts, take risks, and collaborate, organizations can unlock the full potential of their employees. While some leaders may have concerns about losing control or hindering performance, research consistently shows that psychological safety enhances creativity, engagement, and productivity. By actively promoting trust, open communication, and a learning culture, organizations can cultivate psychological safety and reap the benefits of a motivated and empowered workforce.

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Build a Workplace Culture and HR Policies That Support Trust, Inclusion and Fairness

Workplace culture is a key driver of employee performance. A positive workplace culture can help your employees be more productive, more effective at teamwork, and more content at work. In contrast, a negative workplace culture could cause rifts and toxicity that undermine your organization from within.

In sum: Workplace culture matters. Your organizational culture has an effect on your ability to achieve your key goals. Unfortunately, too many organizations don’t monitor or plan their workplace culture. Instead, they view culture as extraneous to success or something that happens by accident.

Building an effective workplace culture that promotes peak performance requires deliberate planning and thought. It doesn’t happen on its own. If you want your team to perform at their peak, you’ll want to ensure your work culture and HR policies promote trust, inclusion, and fairness across your organization. Here’s what you need to know about the ROI of workplace culture – and how you can build a positive and productive culture in your organization.

Workplace Culture Drives Recruitment & Retention

Your organization’s culture is a key driver of both employee recruitment and employee retention. In addition to attracting new talent, a positive culture keeps current employees engaged. This means they’ll be more likely to stay rather than accept a new position somewhere else.

But organizational culture is more than just office perks. It’s more than just putting a foosball table in the break room. Jessica Kriegel, Ph.D., a workplace culture consultant, told Computer World earlier this year that creating a positive onboarding experience for new hires means treating onboarding like dating.

“You’re selling the culture of the organization,” Kriegel says. “It’s a sales opportunity to recruit someone to your company.”

Workplace culture, Kriegel explains, isn’t about feelings – it’s about beliefs. Kriegel says companies can deliberately engineer the beliefs they want employees to hold. The key, she says, is to design cultural experiences that lead to those beliefs.

“If we want people to be more innovative, they need to have the belief that leadership encourages risk-taking and embraces failure,” Kriegel explains. 

It’s values and beliefs like these that create a strong workplace culture. If you want your company culture to create results then build it on values like trust, inclusion, and fairness.

The Importance of Trust, Inclusion, and Fairness

Trust is a key aspect of a successful culture. If your team doesn’t feel like you trust them to do their jobs, they’ll start to feel downtrodden and unmotivated. Without a sense of trust, your employees won’t want to show up to work. As a result, they’ll only put in the minimum effort.

Inclusion is also an important aspect of a positive workplace culture. When everyone on the team feels included, they become more effective at working together as a team. This means team-based projects will get done faster and to a higher degree of quality.

Fairness is potentially the most important value in your workplace. People have an innate sense of fairness that has been developed from a very young age. When your employees sense that they are being treated unfairly, it can cause significant rifts in your team. In some cases, unfair treatment may lead top employees to quit. In other, more egregious cases, it may lead to regulatory action or lawsuits.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that having a strong, positive culture can improve your retention and recruitment. One study found that a culture focused on mutual support and achievement had retention benefits. In contrast, a workplace culture focused on power resulted in significant employee churn. Quite simply: Employees are more likely to stick around when they feel valued. And that means ensuring your workplace is a place of trust, inclusion, and fairness.

A Positive Workplace Culture Boosts Productivity

Beyond retention and recruitment, having a strong office culture renders benefits in other ways. Workplace culture is a significant factor in employee engagement, which influences productivity. When your employees feel engaged at work, they’re more productive – which means they perform better. 

A positive company culture can also give employees a sense of ownership at work. When employees feel a sense of ownership, they’re more motivated and engaged.

Beyond simply higher morale, though, a strong company culture can also create a sense of accountability among your staff. This means they’ll be more committed to hitting their goals. One 2017 Gallup study found that engaged employees are 17% more productive than less-engaged employees.

Workplace Culture Starts from the Top

As a leader, you set your workplace culture. Whether you’re aware of it or not, the way you treat your employees influences the way they treat each other.

Your company HR policies also have a strong influence in creating your workplace culture. That’s why auditing your HR policies can help ensure you’re creating a productive and inclusive culture at your organization.

Once you’ve set those cultural policies, you’ll want to ensure that your new hires adopt them quickly. When onboarding and training new hires, ensure you have a module on your workplace culture. This way, new hires will know whether your culture is more high-pressure and hustle-oriented or more patient and relaxed. They’ll also know what your company’s values are and how they can embody those values in the workplace. 

Technology can aid in this regard. With a corporate LMS, for instance, you can train your new employees on company culture before they enter the workplace. You can even create specialized modules that explain what trust, inclusion, and fairness look like at your organization.

Workplace culture is a key driver of employee performance; a positive culture also aids in recruitment and retention. Your organization will have some sort of culture, whether you plan it or not. That’s why it’s best to intentionally create a positive and welcoming culture where your employees can thrive. By building a culture of trust, inclusion, and fairness, you can boost productivity, improve employee retention, and give your new recruits a reason to feel excited to show up to work.

Are you training your team on workplace culture? How are you creating a company culture where your employees can thrive?

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