In the realm of workplace dynamics, psychological safety is critical for fostering a thriving, innovative, and collaborative environment.

It is the essence of feeling safe, respected, and valued—creating an atmosphere where you can voice your thoughts, take risks, and contribute without the fear of reprisal or judgment.

In this article, I’m exploring psychological safety in the workplace, what it means and what you should do if it’s missing.

To watch the extended YouTube version of this article, click here.

The concept of psychological safety is not just a buzzword; it’s an essential component that shapes organisational culture, employee well-being, and the overall success of a business. But sadly, it’s missing in many organisations.

Understanding Psychological Safety in The Workplace

Psychological safety within a work context embodies an environment where you feel comfortable expressing your opinions, ideas, and concerns and even acknowledging mistakes without the dread of adverse consequences.

It’s the assurance that you won’t be penalised or marginalised for sharing differing viewpoints or challenging the status quo. This climate of safety encourages open communication, trust, and mutual respect among team members.

It’s not about avoiding disagreements but fostering an atmosphere where healthy conflicts can arise, leading to constructive discussions and innovative solutions.

Employees within psychologically safe workplaces feel empowered to be their authentic selves, promoting a culture of inclusivity, collaboration, and growth.

Signs of a Lack of Psychological Safety

Recognising the absence of psychological safety in the workplace is crucial. Signs often manifest in various ways:

  1. Fear of Speaking Up: Employees hesitating or refraining from sharing their thoughts or concerns during discussions or meetings.

  2. Avoidance of Risk-Taking: A reluctance to propose new ideas or solutions due to the fear of failure, backlash or being shot down.

  3. Micromanagement and Control: Overly controlling behaviours from leadership that restrict autonomy and discourage independent decision-making.

  4. Unresolved Conflict: A culture where conflicts are ignored, mishandled, or not addressed, leading to tension and discomfort within the team.

  5. Lack of Trust: Feeling apprehensive about expressing yourself due to past experiences of criticism, ridicule, or marginalisation.

What To Do If You Don’t Feel Psychologically Safe

If you find yourself in a work environment where psychological safety is lacking, there are proactive steps you can take:

  1. Acknowledge Your Feelings: Recognise and validate your emotions. Understand that feeling psychologically unsafe is a genuine concern that deserves attention.

  2. Seek Support: Connect with a trusted colleague, mentor, or HR representative to discuss your concerns confidentially. They might offer guidance or initiate conversations to address the issue.

  3. Provide Feedback: If you feel comfortable, offer your immediate supervisor or leadership constructive feedback about the lack of psychological safety. Be specific about observed behaviours or incidents affecting the team’s dynamics.

  4. Encourage Open Dialogue: Advocate for open discussions within your team or department, emphasising the importance of a safe and respectful environment for everyone.

  5. Explore Resources: Look for workshops, training sessions, or resources offered by the organisation that focus on building psychological safety and healthy communication in the workplace.

  6. Seek External Support: If the situation persists and affects your well-being, consider seeking support from external resources such as counselling or professional coaching.

  7. Seek Alternative Employment: Unfortunately, things will not change for many employees despite their best efforts. If this is your experience, I strongly recommend seeking a new job sooner rather than later.

As I’ve said in many of my narcissism in the workplace and bullying articles and videos, the longer you stay in a toxic work environment, the more your confidence, self-esteem and self-worth will be eroded. Getting a new job will be much more challenging if you stay to that point because you’re less likely to believe in yourself or your abilities.

So, although it may seem harsh, I would always recommend getting out sooner rather than later. If looking for a new job feels too daunting, I have an online training programme, ‘Your Dream Job’, which contains various courses on CV writing, interview skills, job hunting, etc. Click here for more information.

Please don’t use those things as an excuse not to find a new job. The longer you stay, the worse it will get. These things never improve on their own.

The Role of Leadership and Organisations

If you’re a leader, you have responsibilities too. Creating and maintaining psychological safety isn’t solely the responsibility of individual employees. Organisational leadership plays a pivotal role in cultivating and nurturing such an environment.

Leaders should lead by example, demonstrating openness to feedback, encouraging diverse perspectives, and fostering a culture that values inclusivity and collaboration. Communication channels should be transparent, and employees should feel assured that their voices are heard and valued.

Organisations can also implement practices and initiatives that prioritise psychological safety. This might include regular training on effective communication, conflict resolution strategies, and creating feedback mechanisms that encourage open dialogue.

Establishing clear guidelines and protocols for respectful interactions and providing support systems for employees experiencing difficulties can significantly contribute to a psychologically safe workplace.

The Wrap-Up

Psychological safety is not a luxury; it’s a necessity in modern workplaces. It’s the bedrock upon which teams thrive, innovation flourishes, and individuals grow professionally and personally.

As an employee, it is a fundamental right to both physical and psychological safety at work. If you feel like you’re not getting that, it’s time to take a serious look at your options before your physical and mental health deteriorates to such a point that you become ill.

There are ALWAYS options, and having helped over 6,500 people find jobs, I can tell you that there are far more jobs out there than you might think.

You don’t have to stay in a toxic environment. Get out sooner rather than later and use a combination of the tools I’ve mentioned above until you can do so.

What Next?

If you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious about your situation, I highly recommend watching my two recent videos discussing practical tools for helping regulate your nervous system.

The first video (040 – Feeling STRESSED? How to quickly lower stress and anxiety right NOW!) gives you tools you can use immediately; the second (041 – 5 Simple, easy-to-use, science-backed tools to build your MENTAL TOUGHNESS and manage STRESS) has techniques that can help you build your resilience and mental toughness in the longer term.

Again, you can watch the extended version of this video on YouTube. If you head over there, please like, comment, subscribe, and hit that notification bell so you don’t miss a thing. Once I hit 1000 YouTube subscribers, I’ve decided to start doing ‘live’ Q&A sessions to answer all your burning questions. So, that is a further reason to hit that subscribe button!

Finally, as always, thank you for your continued support.

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