If you haven’t heard the phrase ‘Psychological Safety’, it is certain that if you are a leader or a D&I specialist, you will, and for a very good reason. This term has been gaining immense traction in the world of leadership and diversity and inclusion.
The Research Company Gartner has this definition:
“Psychological safety is an environment that encourages, recognizes and rewards individuals for their contributions and ideas by making individuals feel safe … A lack of psychological safety at work can inhibit team learning and lead to in-groups, groupthink and blind spots”.
Through many versions of corporate strategy and behaviours, managers and leaders have emphasised the importance of “telling it like it is”, “being able to speak truth to power”, “speaking up when something is wrong”, “understanding a whistleblowing policy”; or versions of these.
Having a set of values and behaviours emphasising the importance of being able to safely highlight issues of wrong-doing or physical/mental harm is incredibly important and, seeing these values effectively communicated by managers, helps colleagues to feel confident.
Here are some of the reasons why managers need to ensure they understand and lean into psychological safety:
Self-awareness as the First Step
What are your leadership fears? Know yourself— everyone’s safety starts with you. Every leader should be prepared to understand their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their own psychological safety. They will need to be honest and prepared to learn and strengthen their own willingness to speak up and help those who come to them with concerns.
Adapting to Hybrid Working
COVID19 has changed how we work with many firms adopting hybrid working. This has had a fundamental shift in how managers manage their teams. They have had to develop a different level of trust and interpersonal skills with their teams and the way they ensure work requirements are completed and how a team member’s working pattern affects or enhances their delivery.
How managers have achieved this has led to a shift in perception of their teams and has affected the psychological safety of team members, some in a positive but, others in a negative way. Openness about what and how team members are measured and monitored will ensure that people don’t feel watched or micromanaged and developing a culture of trust in delivery will be paramount in attracting and retaining good staff.
Changing Workplace Dynamics
As we live with COVID, many companies have concluded that permanently working from home negatively affects collaboration and impedes the development of business improvements. This has meant a return to the office for all or some of the working week. As much as leaders see this as a necessity, to some team members this has up-ended their working equilibrium and has led to a level of mistrust in their company. Things they were told about working from home not changing, have in fact changed. It will be for leaders to help their teams adapt to this change and not dismiss genuine concerns from team members such as how to deal with a new pet or the cost of driving into the office with the increase in the cost of living. Genuine fears and concerns need to be listened to.
Prioritising Mental Health
In February 2022, the British Medical Journal said that around 10% of the population experienced persistent distress, with women, 18-30 years olds and people with pre-existing mental or physical health problems experiencing persistent distress. Managers must lean into this, understanding and helping their teams to be able to speak about how they are feeling and signpost them to relevant help.
How do you know when you are causing any psychological safety concerns?
Understanding and listening to teams whether this is via polls or group chats, taking the temperature of people is critical right now. This includes having strong and open 1-1s which should always start with “How are you” and not veer into the realms of delivery. No one can deliver if they feel unsafe or unsure about their place in the world and, a large part of their world is their work.
As managers and leaders, it’s up to you to shape what that looks like and help people feel secure, relevant, and valued to be able to speak up when something doesn’t look or sound right to them, managers must trust their people to deliver and they can only do this when they feel safe and know their manager has their back.
This blog has been written by our guest Sarah Mason, an award winning D&I specialist and the Founder of All Together Now (AlltogetherNow365) because she believes that Diversity, Equality & Inclusion are important every single day of the year. Sarah has been working with companies in the Finance and Service sectors to develop great D&I Strategies and initiatives.
To know more about what Sarah Mason’s programme offers, visit and connect with her through her Linkedin page.