A Foundational Block to Building a Healthy Workplace
With the pressures of constant planned and unplanned change and rising costs of Mental Health in our world, Psychological Health and Safety are gaining well-deserved importance in our workplaces.
When Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson popularized the concept of psychological safety in 2019 in her game-changing book, “Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth”, My Healthy Workplace recognized it as a foundational building block to our aspired Healthy Workplace.
Edmondson defines Psychological Safety as, “a team climate where it is safe to take interpersonal risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. A sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up”.
In recent years, Psychological Safety is being incorporated into all levels of Leadership Training and is linked to important themes of team building, change management, equity, diversity & inclusion, mental health, and wellbeing. It bears obvious connections as well to how we interact with each other, including Effective Communications and Emotional Intelligence.
Psychological Safety is serious business for employees of all backgrounds and levels of an organization. In 2012, Google set out to determine what characteristics made some of its teams “exceptional”, while others not. After several years of intense research with over 180 teams, Project Aristotle couldn’t find an answer to their question… until they inadvertently fell upon the notion of “psychological safety”. It proved to be the foundational variable that they had overlooked as a top employer, long recognized for its outstanding talent. No one had imagined that even these high-status Google employees might mute their voices in the workplace due to feeling a lack of psychological safety. In fact, in an organization with a world-class reputation for excellence and high achievement, psychological safety is particularly vital and well worth the investment.
Research shows that if employees feel safe expressing themselves fully with their leaders and their peers, they are far more likely to feel engaged, and to contribute to identifying risks, sharing innovative ideas and continuing to learn together. While one’s sense of safety is personal and unique, there is much we can do as an organization to create conditions for all employees to belong and have a voice.
In his book Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (2014), former MIT Professor Edgar Schein explains that Psychological Safety is vital in helping people to cope with the uncertainty and anxiety of organizational change, and to overcome learning anxiety. When leaders display authentic humility in the face of situations (not false modesty or a lack of confidence!), teams engage in more learning behaviors.
To build greater psychological safety, Professor Edmondson recommends we:
- Frame ‘work’ as learning problems as opposed to execution problems
- Acknowledge our own fallibility: by admitting we may need help gives others permission to do so too
- Model curiosity – ask a lot of questions
The Mental Health Commission of Canada offers a free series of mini animated videos, with discussion guides, to engage our teams in exploring the 13 Factors that support Mental Health in the Workplace: including Psychological Protection.
Psychological Safety goes far beyond a “touchy-feely” notion. In a hospital setting, for example, an employee’s ability to identify a patient's risk, without fear of reprisal, can save a life. When an employee dealing with mental distress can seek help in a timely manner, without fear of punishment or ridicule, dignity is maintained, health re-established, and talent retained. When a highly diverse team comes together and nurtures psychological safety, tremendous learning and achievements can occur.
Join us in making psychological safety a priority in our healthy workplace.
Organizational Development’s resources to support your learning:
Listening and Effective Communication Across Differences
Leading with Psychological Safety
Leaning into Discomfort
Equity Diversity and Inclusion, Challenging Conversations in the Workplace – Offered by the Equity and Diversity Team, Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)
Online LinkedIn Learning Modules relating to Psychological Safety:
For more information on Coaching Ourselves Modules contact: angela.morse [at] mcgill.ca