What factors promote psychological safety?

Psychological safety in the workplace has become a crucial factor affecting employee well-being, productivity and the overall performance of an organisation. It refers to the extent to which employees feel safe to take interpersonal risks, such as speaking up, expressing ideas or admitting mistakes, without fear of negative consequences. As organisations increasingly recognise the importance of promoting psychological safety, it becomes necessary to measure and evaluate its presence within teams and across the organisation. Dr Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organisation: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth and a prominent researcher in the field, has developed a comprehensive framework for assessing psychological safety, which includes various parameters.

Psychological safety is crucial to create an environment where employees feel comfortable openly sharing their thoughts, opinions and difficulties. It fosters collaboration, innovation and learning, leading to both better performance at team level and the organisation as a whole. To effectively measure psychological safety, an organisation needs to consider several different aspects and behaviours that contribute to creating and maintaining psychological safety.

Parameters that contribute to and create psychological safety include:

Trust: Trust is the basis for psychological safety. It implies trust in each other’s intentions, reliability and competence. Measuring trust can involve assessing perceptions of reliability, confidentiality and integrity within teams.

Open communication: psychological safety thrives in an environment where communication flows freely, and individuals feel encouraged to express themselves without fear of judgement or negative consequences. Parameters for measuring open communication can include how often and in what way feedback is given to each other, whether there are forums for discussion and the perception of how effective the communication is.

Respectful behaviour: involves treating others with dignity, empathy and kindness. It involves actively listening to different perspectives and refraining from patronising or belittling actions. Measuring respectful behaviour can involve evaluating interactions during meetings, team collaborations and conflict management processes.

Empowerment: Empowerment is about giving employees autonomy, authority and resources to perform their roles effectively. It fosters a sense of ownership, responsibility and self-confidence among employees. Parameters for measuring empowerment can include assessing the ability to make decisions independently and freely, access to resources and opportunities for skills development.

Risk-taking: psychological safety encourages risk-taking and experimentation by minimising the fear of failure or negative consequences. It means creating a culture that sees mistakes as learning processes and values innovation and creativity. Measuring risk-taking can mean evaluating individuals’ willingness to share unusual ideas, propose alternative solutions or challenge the status quo.

Supportive leadership: plays a crucial role in promoting psychological safety within teams. Supportive leaders show empathy, vulnerability and are inclusive, creating an environment where employees feel valued and supported. Parameters for measuring supportive leadership can include assessing leadership concerns and consistency in behaviour.

Examples of survey questions to measure psychological safety:

Dr Amy Edmondson’s research provides valuable insights into the design of survey instruments to effectively measure psychological safety. Here are some examples of questions adapted from her work:

  1. I feel comfortable sharing my ideas and opinions with my team members.
  2. I believe that my contributions are appreciated and respected by my colleagues.
  3. I trust my team members to support me when I take risks or make mistakes.
  4. I feel capable of making decisions and taking initiative in my role.
  5. My team encourages open and honest communication.
  6. I believe my manager really cares about my wellbeing and development.

By including these questions in an employee survey or employee questionnaire, organisations can gain valuable insights into the level of psychological safety within their teams and identify areas for improvement. Webropol provides ready-made surveys to measure and develop psychological safety over time.

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Edmondson, A.C. (1999) Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350-383.