There are many things we all expect from our workplaces. For example, the organization should pay employees on time, have basic policies and procedures for employees, and create an environment that is safe from physical threats or harassment. These basics are called “hygiene factors,” the organizational equivalent of brushing your teeth in the morning.
As we prepare for 2022 and beyond, it’s time to raise the bar. In the wake of the great resignation, employees expect more from their work environments. Organizations must adapt and improve. One of the most in-demand improvements is greater psychological safety. In fact, it is now an essential term of employment.
Psychological Safety is More than a Hygiene Factor
Psychological safety is the ability to take risks without fear of negative consequences. In a safe environment, individuals feel rewarded for their everyday acts of vulnerability. Acts of vulnerability include asking a question, admitting a mistake, sharing something personal, or offering an alternative point of view. Psychological safety is a high standard for any organization or team. But there are a few reasons why this standard is important.
Avoiding the “Quiet Zone”
Many organizations don’t have a glaring problem with safety. If a stranger walked into the office, they wouldn’t see an environment where people were attacked or put down. Employees themselves may not say that they are “unsafe.” At first glance, employees may seem engaged, positive, and able to work well together. But without a high level of psychological safety, these environments can become self-protective of the status quo. Without the ability to speak up, challenge others, or admit mistakes, the organization ends up being slow-moving, cautious, and risk-averse. Because it can be difficult for employees to speak up, many good ideas remain unspoken. Before long, this creates the “quiet zone” where the illusion of psychological safety is in place, but its benefits are missing.
Building a Competitive Edge
Having a greater degree of psychological safety avoids the quiet zone and provides a competitive edge for innovation and high performance. There is a long-established link between psychological safety and competitive performance, but it is particularly strong in situations requiring transformation, complexity, or uncertainty. When the rulebook gets thrown out, such as during a global pandemic, it becomes even more important to remain agile, admit you don’t know the answer, and invite all perspectives. Teams and organizations that are able to do this now will have a brighter future in the years to come.
Not One and Done
Keeping a high level of psychological safety won’t happen for your team automatically, even in organizations with healthy cultures. Reaching high levels of psychological safety is a significant achievement that requires regular upkeep. It remains important to patrol the boundaries of respect and support those around you when they take risks or show vulnerability.
The Bottom Line
Don’t take psychological safety for granted. It’s a high standard, which creates a competitive edge for teams and organizations. Because of this, many organizations with healthy cultures can still improve when it comes to psychological safety. As the demand for psychological safety from employees continues to grow, 2022 is an excellent time to raise the bar.