Psychological Safety: The Secret Sauce to Creating a Culture of Belonging
As the workforce becomes more diverse, employers are reexamining their practices, policies, and procedures to ensure that their organizations are equitable and foster a culture of belonging. Research shows that a critical factor for employees feeling as if they “belong” at work is psychological safety. Dr. Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, says that “psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”
High levels of psychological safety create the conditions for experimentation, unconstrained engagement, constructive debate, and allow organizations with a diverse workforce to thrive. At the Nebo Company, we have identified a few key strategies that organizations can implement to increase psychological safety.
#1. Understand Your Organization’s Unique Context
Each organization is different. Therefore, taking stock of how employees perceive the level of psychological safety is critical. Having open and candid conversations with staff will build trust and help organizations determine a tailored path forward. We suggest having an expert facilitate an intentional discussion. Sample discussion questions may include:
● What does psychological safety look like in our organization?
● What is at stake when you don’t feel psychologically safe?
● How might we increase psychological safety to foster inclusivity and belonging?
If an open and candid conversation on this topic doesn’t feel possible, a good first step might be the use of an anonymous survey, or hiring a company like Nebo, who can host these conversations on a one-on-one basis with employees. Once you understand the dynamics and comfort-levels that exist within your organization, you are equipped to pave an informed, meaningful path forward.
#2. Level the Virtual Playing Field
With many companies adopting a hybrid or fully remote model, it has become increasingly important to be intentional about fostering psychological safety virtually. This includes ensuring that all employees are setup to succeed online. It is a best practice for organizations to provide adequate technology training to all employees. Training should include basic how-tos for each platform, troubleshooting, and an in- depth explanation on how various functions within each platform can increase collaboration and communication. By reducing the stress of technical difficulties, employers’ level the playing field, strengthen communication, and reduce barriers that diminish psychological safety.
#3. Build Connection and Trust
In order for employees to feel safe and as if they belong, they must trust both their colleagues and leadership. Through established relationships, people feel safer to be themselves, contribute authentically, and challenge each other. Creating the space for employees to connect and build relationships is crucial. This can be achieved by increasing connectivity through providing an opportunity for staff to showcase their talents and leadership capabilities.
At Nebo, we have weekly virtual staff lunches. Each week, we rotate which employee is the host. The host has creative license to create their own lunch experience (ex. play a
game, present on a topic, etc.). If you have a larger organization, you may experiment with having daily staff lunches. We ask that the lunches are prioritized and not canceled, and encourage our staff to attend in support of their colleagues. Our lunches have been a great way to build relationships, foster culture contribution and increase psychological safety.
Additionally, access to leadership is something that many organizations struggle with. Implementing dedicated office hours for managers/leaders provides employees a space to connect with leadership and a sense of accessibility to leadership.
#4. Create Accountability Through Feedback
Over the past few years, accountability has become a buzzword. Understandably, employees are demanding that managers and leaders are held accountable for their role in creating equitable organizations. Systemically holding leadership accountable for their role in creating a psychologically safe environment can be done by incorporating it into the performance review process. Leaders should be assessed on how well they foster psychological safety through feedback from their colleagues and direct reports. This creates a 360-feedback loop, which many organizations lack.
An organization with high-levels of psychological safety thrives because each employee feels comfortable to showcase their authentic self, put their best ideas forward and know that they have the support of those they work with. These organizations unlock the potential for diverse employees to flourish, fostering a culture of belonging for all.
The Nebo Company has helped many organizations understand and improve the level of psychological safety in their own culture. If you’d like to speak with a member of our team on the ways we can support your organization, please click here.