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5 Ways to Develop Psychological Safety at Work

In the workplace, we all want to feel as though we can bring our full selves, either virtually or in person. We want to feel safe to share our thoughts, communicate openly, have the chance to learn from experience, and try new ways of doing things without fear of being judged. 


But to feel this way, there must be a certain level of psychological safety. 


Now, more than ever, psychological safety at work plays a crucial role in our well-being, our desire to work for an organisation, and our willingness to stay. With research showing that 84% of employees value psychological safety, now is the time for organisations to ensure that they are developing workplaces that embody this. 


With McKinsey&Company sharing that only 26% of leaders create psychological safety for their teams, in this blog, we invite you to learn more about: 


  • What psychological safety at work is 

  • Why psychological safety in the workplace is important 

  • Signs that your workplace is psychologically safe and signs it isn’t 

  • 5 ways to develop psychological safety at work 


What Is Psychological Safety at Work? 

Imagine you’re sat in a meeting at work. You feel able to speak up, share your thoughts, put new ideas forward, and offer feedback to those around you. In essence, this is what psychological safety at work is and feels like. It’s a sense of comfort where open communication, risk-taking, and innovation are fostered and encouraged.  


Psychological safety at work refers to the environment within a workplace where employees feel safe to express themselves openly without fear of negative consequences. It encompasses a culture where individuals are comfortable taking risks, sharing their ideas, asking questions, and admitting mistakes, knowing they won't be ridiculed or penalised.  

When the environment nurtures psychological safety, there's an explosion of confidence, engagement, and performance. Ask yourself if you feel included, safe to learn, safe to contribute, and safe to challenge the status quo. Finally, ask yourself if you're creating an environment where others can do these four things. In the process, look around and see others with respect and fresh amazement, find deeper communion in your relationships, and more happiness and satisfaction in your own life. - Timothy R. Clark, Founder and CEO of LeaderFactor

In psychologically safe environments, there's a sense of trust, mutual respect, and empathy amongst team members, fostering collaboration and innovation. Employees feel valued and supported, which enhances their overall well-being and job satisfaction.  


Why Is Psychological Safety at Work Important? 


Psychological safety at work is important for several reasons. Not only does it increase productivity, creativity, and organisational success, but it: 


  • Fosters open communication and collaboration. 

  • Encourages innovation and creativity by allowing individuals to share ideas freely. 

  • Builds trust and strengthens relationships within the workplace. 

  • Enhances employee well-being and job satisfaction. 

  • Reduces employee turnover. 

  • Attracts new talent. 

  • Increases risk-taking and experimentation. 

  • Facilitates constructive feedback and continuous learning. 

  • Improves problem-solving and decision-making. 

  • Boosts team performance and productivity. 

  • Psychological safety reduces stress in the workplace. 


In addition to the above, research shows that psychological safety is one of the top drivers of employee retention. In fact, one in four organisations report this in the United States. 


Signs Of A Psychologically Safe Workplace 

Freedom from fear requires feeling safe. If you feel safe, you run experiments. You stop asking permission. You avoid long, mind-numbing meetings. You create a new kind of culture in which you accept that mistakes are inevitable. You learn that small, fast mistakes are preferable to the big, slow, deadly mistakes you are making today. - Richard Sheridan, Co-Founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations

Wondering whether your people think your workplace boasts psychological safety? Although asking them directly is important as you’ll have the opportunity to gather feedback as to what is going well and areas for improvement, here are some signs that indicate psychological safety is present in your organisation:  


  1. Open Communication: Employees freely share their ideas, concerns, and feedback without fear of retribution or judgement. 

  2. Active Listening: Team members actively listen to each other and demonstrate empathy and understanding in their interactions. 

  3. Respectful Disagreement: There's a culture where disagreements are handled respectfully, with a focus on understanding differing perspectives rather than personal attacks. 

  4. Risk-Taking: Employees feel comfortable taking calculated risks and proposing innovative solutions without the fear of failure or punishment. 

  5. Supportive Leadership: Leaders encourage and support employees, provide constructive feedback, and acknowledge efforts and contributions. 

  6. Admitting Mistakes: Individuals are willing to admit mistakes and take responsibility for them without fear of blame or repercussion. 

  7. Diverse Perspectives: The workplace values diversity of thought and actively seeks input from individuals with different backgrounds and experiences. 

  8. Collaborative Environment: Team members readily collaborate and support each other's efforts, fostering a sense of camaraderie and shared goals. 

  9. Personal Development: Employees feel supported in their personal and professional growth, with opportunities for learning and development. 

  10. Low Turnover and Absenteeism: High levels of psychological safety are often associated with lower turnover rates and absenteeism, as employees feel more satisfied and engaged in their work. 


Signs Your Workplace Is Lacking Psychological Safety 

What about if your organisation lacks psychological safety? Here are 10 signs to look out for: 


  1. Fear of Speaking Up: Employees hesitate to voice their opinions or concerns, fearing backlash or negative consequences. 

  2. Blame Culture: Mistakes are met with blame rather than seen as opportunities for learning and improvement. 

  3. Micromanagement: There's a pervasive atmosphere of control and micromanagement, leading to feelings of distrust and suffocation among employees. 

  4. Lack of Feedback: Constructive feedback is rare or non-existent, leaving employees uncertain about their performance and development. 

  5. Isolation: Employees feel isolated or unsupported by their colleagues and supervisors, leading to a lack of teamwork and collaboration. 

  6. High Turnover: A revolving door of employees leaving the organisation may indicate a lack of psychological safety, as individuals seek more supportive and fulfilling work environments. 

  7. Rumours and Gossip: Rumours and gossip thrive in an environment where trust is lacking, undermining morale, and creating a culture of suspicion. 

  8. Dominant Personalities: Certain individuals dominate discussions or decision-making processes, stifling diverse perspectives and contributions from others. 

  9. Resistance to Change: There's a pervasive resistance to change, as employees fear the unknown and potential repercussions on their job security. 

  10. High Stress Levels: Employees experience high levels of stress, anxiety, or burnout, indicating a lack of support and psychological safety in the workplace. 


5 Ways to Develop Psychological Safety at Work 

 With an understanding of why psychological safety at work is important and signs to look out for that indicate whether it’s something your organisation has or lacks, Director of Coaching and Learning Ian White shares 5 ways to develop psychological safety at work below. 


1. Treat trust like your success depends on it. 

Why should we treat trust like our success depends on it? Because it does.   


We have known for decades that high-trust environments are more productive, have more engagement, greater energy, increased motivation, and therefore have better outcomes.   


The opposite - low trust, and toxic environments at work - leads to increased absence, attrition, hiding, blame, criticism, and avoidance. But this knowledge has not prevented us from tolerating low trust, or tolerating trust that is not high enough to produce outstanding outcomes.   


We often settle for less, because it is demanding, messy, and difficult to move through the conflict and conversations necessary to build trust. But for psychological safety, we need to have high levels of trust, and especially, trust that believes your intentions towards me are good. 


When it comes to trust, ask yourself the following questions: 


  • What is the level of trust in your organisation? 

  • What conversations do you need to have to build greater levels of trust? 

  • What do people believe about each other’s intentions? 


2. React well to mistakes 

When someone makes a mistake, what do we do? We can be sure that our reaction in this situation is observed and tucked away in people’s minds for future reference.   


Either people will be open about their mistakes, or they will hide their mistakes after seeing our response.  Our reaction is linked to our beliefs about mistakes. Are they to be avoided, do they bring shame, does a mistake mean weakness, poor attention to detail, or incompetence? 

People happy at work

Or are mistakes an opportunity to learn. In fact, are they our biggest opportunity to learn the biggest lessons that will bring about the biggest results?   


Some organisations have ‘Messed it up Friday’, where the biggest mistakes that week are taken, and every possible bit of learning is squeezed from them.  


For psychological safety people, need to feel good about making mistakes. If you’re looking to develop psychological in the workplace, Ian recommends asking yourself how you would describe your response to mistakes and how you could celebrate mistakes and gain the most learning from them. 


3. Agree to disagree 

Who speaks up in your organisation? Who says what people don’t want to hear? Who disagrees? How is this received?   


Are we offended, do we take it personally, do we make life uncomfortable for them? Or do we embrace the opposite view, the distributor, those who raise red flags and see things differently? 


Groupthink means we must agree for the survival and harmony of the group, but agreeing to agree comes with dangers and risks, so how can we agree to disagree?   


To develop psychological safety, people need to be able to speak up, speak out, and be heard. Here, ask yourself how you encourage difference and how you feel safe whilst disagreeing in your organisation. 


4. Lead by example 

When we lead in organisations we always lead by example, regardless of whether that example is good or bad, and we role model how we expect others to behave.   


As humans, we are excellent at scanning for threats, real or imagined, and weighing the risks of our actions. For example, we ask ourselves questions like: 


  • How safe is it to speak out?  

  • How safe is it to make a mistake?  

  • How safe is it to question the dominant thinking?  

  • How safe is it to say how I feel?   


If we look at our leader, we can answer all those questions by seeing how our leader acts. Leading with psychological safety means they speak out, are open about their mistakes, allow people to question them and question their ideas, and are open about their feelings. 


As a leader, Ian encourages you to ask yourself how safe you are to be around and what it’s like to be led by you if you’re hoping to develop psychological safety at work. 


5. Take advantage of executive coaching 

When we have one-to-one executive coaching with an experienced, inspirational, and credible coach, we gain a psychologically safe place for high challenge and reflection that has a transformational and sustained impact on our inner and outer worlds.   


So, when you think about how to develop psychological safety at work, first consider how you can invest in a place for you and your team to learn and grow by being coached.  


Additional Resources for Developing Psychological Safety at Work 

In addition to considering the above points and reviewing whether one-to-one executive coaching could support you, there are many resources that can support you in developing psychological safety at work. 


CEO Zoé Lewis personally recommends the incredible work of Dr. Amy Edmondson.  


Her TED talk shares more about building a psychologically safe workplace, highlighting what it is and three things you can do to build it. To watch the TED Talk, click here. You might also like to read her book, “The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth.”  


In addition to the work of Dr. Amy Edmondson, it’s also worth reading “Psychological Safety” by Dan Radecki and Leonie Hull. 


Contact Us Today 

If you’d like to learn more about how executive coaching can support you in developing psychological safety in the workplace, contact us today


Our team of credible executive coaches have a wealth of experience spanning various industries. With a proven track record, we’re certain that they can support you. 



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