How to Create a Psychologically Safe Work Environment

Editor’s note: Darlene Dumont, Ph.D., is an Organization Change and Continuous Improvement Consultant with DDJ Myers. She has over 30 years of diverse business experience with demonstrated results in organizational transformation, executive coaching, strategic workforce design, and more.

Do you have the right leadership skills to succeed in a remote environment? When organizations made the shift to a remote or hybrid workplace last year, leaders were forced to make adjustments to their leadership styles. Though the dust has somewhat settled, leaders will need to further adapt their styles and possibly acquire new skills to develop high-performing teams now and into the future.

Is your staff exhibiting signs of engagement, high productivity, and innovation? Or are they disengaged, unmotivated, and unproductive? If the latter is true, you may need to reflect on your leadership style and determine whether you have created the psychologically safe environment your staff need to be successful in a remote workplace.

What is psychological safety? In its simplest form, it can be compared to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: self-actualization needs, esteem needs, love and belonging needs, safety needs, and psychological needs.

The basic premise is that people need to feel safe and secure in an environment before they can progress to the next level of capability. The same is true in the work environment. If employees do not feel psychologically safe, valued, engaged, and respected, it can lead to reduced productivity, poor morale, and increased turnover. Employees do not come to work to provide bad service or to make mistakes. However, if processes are broken and they do not feel the support of leaders and colleagues, they may be afraid and feel like they are just trying to survive each day, which leads to a downward spiral for the business, the employees, and the members.

Research has shown that workplaces that are psychologically safe see increased productivity, improved morale, reduced turnover rates, and innovation.

So, how do you know if you have a psychologically safe work environment? It’s simple — ask your employees. You can use any number of approaches to get feedback, whether it’s one-on-one conversations, a recurring topic at staff meetings, a survey, team focus groups, silent voting, or any other method. What’s important is that you show you care about your team members’ perspectives and needs and that you are willing to work with them, especially in a remote or hybrid environment.

Here are some tips for building a psychologically safe environment:

  • Reflect on your own beliefs and perceptions about staff and the remote environment. You may be reinforcing negative behaviors without even realizing it. Be honest with yourself, and be willing to hear what others have to say.
  • Attain employee input. This can be through informal means or a professionally administered Organizational Alignment Assessment. Keep in mind that if employees take the time to provide heartfelt feedback, it’s the leadership’s responsibility to communicate the results in a respectful and timely manner.
  • Be transparent. Discuss employee feedback and engage in open dialogue about needs and priorities.
  • Brainstorm ideas to develop a psychologically safe environment. Select one to three ideas staff want to implement and use problem-solving questions to help guide and reinforce the needed environment. Forming diverse, cross-functional teams of volunteers will also help involve staff in solving problems for things they personally care about.
  • Celebrate and share lessons learned. Communicate a team’s unique ideas and promote a learning environment that enables teams to share and celebrate successes and failures.
  • Implement and spread successful changes internally throughout the credit union and externally through social media, articles, conferences, or other means. This is another great way to engage, reward, and recognize staff and to reinforce the credit union’s mission.

If you have questions or need support, DDJ Myers can help. The Strategic Link partner specializes in preparing individuals, teams, and organizations for growth through strategic planning, organizational development, and succession planning. Visit DDJ Myers’ partner page online or contact the Strategic Link team to get connected. Additionally, you can meet with the experts of DDJ Myers one-on-one at the MAXX 2021 Strategic Link Trade Show, Oct. 5-7, in Boise.

Posted in Industry Insight, Strategic Link.