PEOPLE OPS PLAYBOOK

How to Create Psychological Safety at Work

What is psychological safety? How do companies build a culture of psychological safety?


TL;DR: Working at an organization where people feel uncomfortable can ruin employer reputation and worker productivity. If employees don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions, they can quickly become burned out or silent. Companies that value psychological safety benefit from more engagement, retention, revenue, and innovation. This playbook will teach you how to create a psychologically safe work environment.


In the book “The Fearless Organization,” Harvard Business School professor Amy C. Edmondson shares her definition of psychological safety: “a climate in which people are comfortable being (and expressing) themselves.” As organization leaders, we must create environments where our people can bring their most authentic brains and selves to work.

A two-year study with over 200 Google employees showed that psychological safety is the top element that sets successful teams apart. You can have stellar people with perfect resumes, but your company won’t go very far if employees don’t feel comfortable being themselves and sharing their ideas. Google reflected upon completing the study:

“(...) the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles. (...) Individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.”


However, it’s crucial to dig deeper into the notion of psychological safety to avoid confusion — and not end up avoiding much-needed talks. “Safe doesn’t equal nice,” shares Lauren Mason, Head of People Experience at Learnerbly. “True safety means having a culture of honest feedback, which requires the courage to have tough conversations.”

Building workplace safety takes time and effort, but the benefits for any organization far outweigh that. This playbook will help you get started.


Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

The sooner you bring psychological safety into the picture, the better.

This means that, even if you’re just getting started, nurturing psychological safety will help you grow as a business, and it will foster innovation.

But chances are, your organization started a while ago. However, it’s never too late! The sooner you implement the steps outlined in this playbook, the quicker your team can come together and share innovative ideas.

Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

Patience

Unlearning toxic behaviors and building new dynamics won’t happen overnight. Give your team time to adjust as you show them that the company is talking the talk and walking the walk.

Team buy-in

Ensuring psychological safety isn’t a one-person job — all levels of your organization must be involved. As you implement this playbook, remind everyone that they, too, play a role in creating and sustaining a psychologically safe environment.

HINTS & TIPS
Hinweise & Tipps
  • Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate improvement. Depending on where your organization started, you might have a lot to do.
  • Have deep conversations with management about psychological safety. With leadership on your side, your leaders can start modeling what a safe workplace looks like. Soon, other employees will follow.
  • During your survey experience, you may uncover difficult information about specific leaders or employees. Work with those employees to make sure their approach to work matches your organization. If not, it might be time to part ways.
  • Although different employees might be in charge of various aspects of your psychological safety action plan, there should be one topic owner (preferably you) to make sure things move forward.
  • Ensure that your action items and ownership are clear and defined.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:


1. Get a better understanding of the current state of psychological safety at your company

Before you begin implementing today’s playbook, you need to know where your employees are when it comes to psychological safety. An anonymous 5–10 question survey can give you valuable insights.

Learnerbly’s Head of People Experience shared: 

“Show your people that you’re ready to hear them and that you value complete freedom of opinion by setting up anonymous surveys. Keep in mind that the work has to be done within each team to create psychological safety at a company level.”


As psychological safety is still a new concept for some people, start the conversation by giving a quick explanation of psychological safety and what it looks like at work. 

Here are some potential survey questions you can use to see where your employees are. Ask your people to rate the following statements on a scale of 0 to 10:

  • I feel safe sharing my personal beliefs.
  • My co-workers are open to opinions different from their own.
  • Members of my team can bring up problems and tough issues.
  • My manager promotes an open and constructive way to deal with problems and challenging issues.
  • It is easy to ask other team members for help.
  • No one on my team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  • It is safe to take a risk in my team.
  • Employees at [company] can voice their opinions without fear of retribution or rejection.

Additionally, you can ask an open-ended question for deeper insight, like “What would make you feel safer at work?”

If you send out your survey with Leapsome, you can use our survey comments feature to engage in valuable conversations with your people — all while protecting their anonymity!

2. Analyze the psychological safety data you received

After you have closed the survey, it’s time to examine the information you received.

If you’ve used a platform like Leapsome to run your survey, you can make the most of the data by analyzing results by job level, department, and other filters (again, everything remains anonymous). You’ll also gain access to action plan recommendations. By looking deeper, you might uncover critical insights to improve your company — and boost psychological safety.

As you analyze the results, ensure that you let your team know what you plan to do with the information they’ve shared. Keep employees in the loop as you bring in key stakeholders to redefine what psychological safety looks like at your company.

Lauren Mason shared another tip: “Don’t just gather survey answers — do something with what you hear. This will reinforce the positive repercussions of speaking up.”

P.S.: Check out our playbook on how to dig into the data and put survey results into action!

3. Define what a psychologically safe environment should look like at your company and brainstorm ways to make it happen

Once you understand the current state of psychological safety, it’s time to think about what things should ideally look like.

How does your team interact with each other? What have they expressed in the survey that you can support them with right away? What issues will take more time and structural changes to address? And where do you want the state of psychological safety to be a few months and a few years from now?

At this point, you should bring in managers and, possibly, more employees to define what psychological safety will look like at your company. Based on your results, you and your team can work like a task force to help you define the dream and make it real.

4. Create an action plan to make those ideas a reality

Keep your “task force” involved in this process. Together, brainstorm ideas to help you improve psychological safety at work. For example, you might:

  • Consider a process for employees to anonymously report situations in which they felt psychologically unsafe. Also, implement ongoing employee engagement surveys if you haven’t yet — this is another space for them to anonymously share their thoughts on the company as a whole.
  • Encourage managers to build meaningful mentoring relationships with employees in weekly 1:1 meetings.
  • A culture of psychological safety is a culture in which mistakes aren’t punished: they’re learning opportunities. Leadership should set an example.

    Sharing mistakes and lessons learned during all-hands and team meetings is a good starting point, and will encourage your employees to do the same without fearing retaliation.
  • Add a talking point to meeting templates for leaders to encourage their reports to raise concerns — and talk to leadership to ensure that they actually listen to their reports.

After you’ve brainstormed, create an action plan that ties back to the survey results you received. This action plan should also mention who owns the implementation of each idea and timelines.

As you create your plan of action, consider how to allocate the resources you’ll need (time, budget, personnel) to make these plans a reality.

5. Bring your ideas to company stakeholders for approval

After you’ve solidified your plan, take this to your company stakeholders for final approval. Getting approval should be easy if you have involved leadership along the way. Use this time as a final check to make sure that you and your leadership team are on the same page. Answer questions, make sure your leaders know the big picture, and get everything squared away.

6. Share your approved changes to the entire company

After you receive final approval for your plans, it’s time to take them to the whole organization. Bringing all of the changes you plan to make closes the loop from the survey where your team shared their thoughts and opinions with you.

Put together a quick video or address the changes at your organization’s next all-hands meeting. There are many formats you can take to address your employees, but we suggest the following:

  • Final survey results: Take a few moments to give an overview of the results you got from the survey. What did those results tell you about the state of psychological safety at your organization?
  • Vision: After looking at the results, what did you want to accomplish? What does a psychologically safe environment look like to you and the leadership team?
  • Action plan: Based on the results and your vision, what are you implementing to improve your organization? How can employees get involved in these steps?
  • Next steps: What should employees expect from you as a follow-up to ensure that this is a top priority for the organization?

Follow-up best practices for creating psychological safety at work


Check in with employees and run recurring surveys

Psychological safety should be a priority for your company. Once you implement the changes from your action plan, you need to check in with employees to ensure that everything is in place.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by running follow-up surveys — but don’t do it too often to avoid survey fatigue. Once per quarter would be a good recurrence.

Also, continuously remind company managers to communicate the value of psychological safety during 1:1s and build a relationship of trust and activate listening with their reports.

Update your psychological safety action plan as needed

After you’ve received updates from your entire organization, you can begin to make changes to your psychological safety action plan as needed. There is a chance that you missed the mark on some of the ideas you implemented — and that’s OK! People ops topics often require an iterative process to understand and address issues.

With the information gained by checking in on your team and running follow-up surveys, take your time to understand:

  • How does the team currently handle psychological safety? Did you take steps forward or backward?
  • What seems to be working when it comes to building safety at work? What’s not working?
  • How can your organization support your employees better?

Once you figure out the updates or changes you need to make, update your action plan. Let your team members know what you’ll be doing differently to get closer to a safe workspace.

— Your managers must stay committed to nurturing a psychologically safe environment, and you can support them with our many playbooks, including our guides on giving constructive feedback to employees and writing performance reviews for their reports. 😉

Frequently Asked Questions

Häufig gestellte Fragen

Why is psychological safety important in an organization?

Employees need to feel comfortable to provide their best work. Organizations that value psychological safety have employees who feel comfortable sharing their best ideas. If you want to grow as an organization, you need to make sure that your employees have an environment that encourages them to learn from mistakes, grow, and share innovative ideas.

How can organizations build psychological safety while remote?

Remote and hybrid organizations need to pay careful attention to employees to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and appreciated. Create more space to hear different perspectives by checking in with employees you don’t hear from often. Managers can use 1:1 time with their employees to build rapport and confidence in shy employees.

Employees can thrive even in a remote setting with suitable attention to psychological safety.

How does psychological safety play a role in workplace safety?

Workplace safety is enhanced when employees feel psychologically safe. For example, employees who don’t feel comfortable sharing their opinions might not act right away when they see something wrong. This phenomenon is called the bystander effect, and it can have damaging effects at work.

If you want your employees to feel comfortable at work, start by improving their psychological safety.

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