The coronavirus pandemic has triggered anxious times across the globe. We are getting to experience extreme facets of the VUCA world. What we learn in the next few months could help us shape the future of work.

These challenging times require organizations and leaders to think differently about how they can lead and sail through these tough times. Organizations need to look at strengthening their connect with employees, engage with them more authentically to neutralize the impact of uncertainty.

This is where the concept of Psychological Safety comes in which can influence the organization’s connect with employees positively.

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological Safety is about providing a safe space for employees to be their full selves. It is an environment in which they feel included, safe to learn, safe to contribute and safe to challenge the status quo without any fear of being penalized, embarrassed or marginalized.

As Amy Edmondson, a pioneer in Psychological Safety defines it as – “A belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes”.

It plays a key role in organizational effectiveness and helps build trust and motivation in teams considering the present dynamic work environment. It lets you be yourself, make mistakes, disagree, take risks and ask questions.

Generates positive emotions in uncertain environment

Volatile situations often spark fight-or-flight responses and restrict employees from thinking clearly. Psychological safety breeds positive emotions like trust, curiosity and resilience which gives employees the strength to broaden perspectives and navigate through unprecedented times with confidence. Employees are more open-minded, motivated, and persistent when they feel emotionally safe.

Fosters Innovation

An organization’s ability to innovate is critical to success in changing world. Innovation is all about taking risks, experimenting, asking questions and even accepting failure. A psychologically safe environment mitigates the fear of taking risks and is key to nurturing new ideas in the workplace to cope with the changing times.

Creates High Performing teams

Research reveals that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, the confidence that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. This belief allows for risk-taking, speaking your mind without fear, trying something unusual— just the types of behaviour that can make a difference.

Promotes inclusive culture

Psychological Safety promotes a “speak up” culture, where employees from diverse backgrounds irrespective of their sex, age, colour, race, ethnicity can express and share ideas /thoughts without any fear of being judged. It creates an environment for open communication. Psychological safety can help break bias patterns in the organization and shift from unconscious bias to conscious inclusion.

How can we bring in psychological safety in teams?
Reframe work as a learning opportunity

We should look at work as learning experiences which can either go well or teach us how to do things differently in the future rather than a failure. In Amy Edmondson’s Tedx Talk she suggests that we “frame work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.” If we have an atmosphere of psychological safety we are in what she terms a learning zone rather than the anxiety zone with low psychological safety, which negatively impacts our performance.

Demonstrate vulnerability

If leaders of the organization are able to display vulnerability, acknowledge their fallibilities it will provide unspoken permission to others in the team to do the same, and will become part of the team culture.

Earn and extend Trust

It is not enough to acknowledge that trust is critical, but it is important to be built in teams.It is easy to extend practical trust which is purely based on the competence and dependability of people you interact with. But extending and earning emotional trust (that one will be treated kindly and respectfully, that one won’t be judged for his/her failures and that one is comfortable sharing honest thoughts, feelings, and ideas) is the key to psychological safety.

Replace blame with curiosity

Blame and criticism lead to conflict, defensiveness and eventually to disengagement. The alternative to blame is curiosity. Being exploratory, asking for solutions will help the team identify effective solutions in times of crises.

Give employees voice

Create pathways to leadership, provide channels for feedback, and encourage conversation. Encourage upward communication to give employees opportunity to challenge the status quo, offer ideas and identify opportunities.

Creating this sense of psychological safety in your own team starting now, we can expect to see higher levels of engagement, increased motivation to tackle challenging situations like the one we are in, and will surely emerge stronger and victorious, and ready to take the world head on!