Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

The ideal workplace comes in many shapes and sizes; it varies from person to person depending on their individual preferences and needs. However, some common features of one’s “ideal” workplace usually include a positive and supportive culture and opportunities for growth and development. Another feature many include on their list for what makes a place great to work is psychological safety.

What in the world is that? We’re so glad you asked! Psychological safety refers to the belief that individuals can freely express their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of retribution or negative consequences. In the workplace, psychological safety is essential for creating a culture of open communication, innovation, and trust.

When employees feel psychologically safe in their work environment, they are more likely to take risks, share ideas, and ask for help when needed. This fosters collaboration, problem-solving, and innovation, ultimately leading to better business outcomes. Psychological safety is crucial in creating a positive work environment that promotes open communication, innovation, employee well-being, performance, productivity, and trust.

How Emotional Intelligence Plays a Part in Psychological Safety

Emotional intelligence is at the heart of what we do at the Entrepreneur and Family Business Council (EFBC). As a member of EFBC, you already know the value of emotional intelligence but let’s do a quick refresher. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence can have a significant impact on psychological safety in the workplace.

When team members have high emotional intelligence, they are better equipped to manage their own emotions and navigate the emotions of others. This can lead to more positive interactions, better communication, and stronger relationships. For executives and managers, emotional intelligence and psychological safety go hand in hand when they are both practiced in the workplace. When managers and executives understand the value of emotional intelligence and work it into their management style, the impact is limitless. It creates an environment that promotes open communication, builds trust between management and team and fosters an overall positive and more productive workplace.

How EFBC Members Create Psychological Safety at the Workplace

We asked some of our members for their own experience with psychological safety and how they work to foster it within their own organizations. Here’s what they said:

“I believe psychological safety needs to be modeled from the top down. Having a safe place to voice concerns, suggest new ideas, ask for help or admit mistakes without fear is very critical. Having your peers actively listen and being able to have open communication is something we try to achieve each week during our Team Lead meetings where we discuss current and future projects as well as reviewing completed projects where we evaluate what we learned and what we could improve.

The more employees feel valued, the more engaged they are, which makes them more motivated. Monthly, new employees meet to ask questions about current processes we have or present new ideas to try. We incorporate as many of their ideas as possible.

Each employee needs to feel comfortable sharing their ideas, especially when collaborating. A simple way to make employees comfortable with one another is to have them get to know each other better. Every Monday morning, we have an all-team meeting where we start with a question and each employee gets their chance to share. Sharing each week in a larger group makes it easier for employees to share their ideas in small group collaborations.”

-Jodi Behrendt, President at Advantage Trailer

“I believe the key to psychological safety is relationships. Relationships are the key to everything. The more we know and trust our teams and employees trust their manager the more open people are.

The first step in building such relationships in our organization is communicating and emphasizing our Core Values: 1) Respect Everyone – listen to others’ perspective; 2) Never Stop Improving – keep on learning; and 3) Be the Owner – hold yourself accountable.

Second, we try to give everyone the tools and training to communicate effectively to build relationships. We have learned that taking small steps and building upon each lesson is most effective. Therefore, we hold quarterly companywide trainings on a particular topic.

Lastly, it is about having frequent conversations with employees in a variety of ways. Managers hold quarterly conversations with their direct reports and each department holds weekly or biweekly meetings. As a company we hold monthly meetings bringing everyone together to share where we are at, where we want to go, and how we are going to get there. Communication, transparency, and follow-up are necessary if you want to build a trusting and safe environment. Show you care.”

-Kim Schrader, HR Manager at Vaxcel International Co.

“Thank you, EFBC. Whether preparing for a presentation or a retreat exercise, I think I get as much value, if not more, from the preparation and reflection. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on what psychological safety in the workplace means to us at Chicago Glue. For me, this means work family. I define work family as bringing your whole self to work and having each other’s backs.

I learned this because I worked for my dad and knew I could say and do things, take risks, and make mistakes, and because he is my dad, it would be ok.

At Chicago Glue and Machine, if words and actions align with our core values, anything and everything goes. This is a continual work in process. We started by repeatedly asking for feedback in any form, any language, anonymous, or in person. Once people saw we acted, we continued to pick up steam. Our latest way to get feedback is to give everyone challenge and penalty flags to throw. So far, they have been thrown during Zoom meetings and in-person meetings.

Everything has trade-offs, and I never thought about it. Still, upon reflection, the foundation of our company being rooted in family leads to a culture of our family values that include unconditional support.

I believe everybody brings their whole self to work. If the culture doesn’t support that, it is stuffed inside and comes out sideways. However, if it is embraced, the human energy it brings is the primary propeller for the company. For us, our people are our differentiators, so we want them to bring it all!”

-Nirel Inman, Co-president at Chicago Glue & Machine

Overall, creating a culture of psychological safety in the workplace takes time and effort, but it is well worth it. When employees feel safe expressing themselves, they are more engaged, innovative, and productive, which benefits both the individual and the organization as a whole.