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Building Psychological Safety at Work and Why It's Crucial for Business

All organizations want employees to perform well. Unfortunately, negative behavior can easily stifle performance as employees disengage, avoiding what they see as a hostile environment and leading talented people to jump ship. This makes it increasingly challenging for organizations to achieve their strategic goals and can even impact the long-term viability of the business. Nowadays, the importance of creating a psychologically safe culture at work is gaining mainstream recognition. But what exactly does it mean? 

What is psychological safety? 

Psychological safety is when employees feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of others because of the support from their leaders and other employees. Psychologically safe people are confident in their abilities and feel respected, valued, and connected to the organization’s mission and vision.  

This positivity can open the door to new ideas that lead to big changes in your organization. Psychological safety also allows you to have courageous conversations when needed. It can help overcome discriminatory mindsets, behavior, systems, or processes that may exist within your teams or organization.  

These mindsets most often result from unintentional assumptions or biases held by individuals you work with daily, not necessarily because they mean to discriminate against others. 

Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Matter 

Diversity, equality, and inclusion are all buzzwords that are thrown around a lot these days. But what do they really mean? 

Let’s start with diversity. Diversity is simply a wide variety of individuals—each with their own unique perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds—working together as a team. Diversity adds value to every organization by providing opportunities to learn from one another, develop new ideas, and tackle problems in new ways. 

Equality means treating people fairly and equitably regardless of their differences. This includes things like equal pay for equal work; equal access to training and development opportunities; equal access to promotions and raises; equal opportunity for leadership positions; etc. 

Inclusion refers to making sure everyone feels welcome at work—regardless of their race or ethnicity, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, age, or ability level—and ensuring that no one feels excluded from the workplace because of who they are or what they believe in. 

For companies to truly embrace DEI, it’s important for them to recognize that everyone is different—and that’s okay! You don’t need to be cookie-cutter employees all doing the same thing in order to be successful. Instead, you should strive towards creating an environment where people can use their unique skills and experiences while working toward company goals. 

The importance of psychological safety and fostering a DEI culture in business 

Psychological safety and diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) have been left with far too little attention from business leaders.  

In the absence of effective responses, this can lead to undesirable forms of oppression, discrimination, and bullying. Scores of companies have suffered from overlooking workplace DEI issues, often incurring heavy financial costs in avoidable fines. And it has also created untold reputational damages that no PR campaigns can spin away. 

Refocusing efforts on DEI and psychological safety opens a judgment-free zone to raise concerns, challenge assumptions, share thoughts, or ask questions about (for instance) your organization’s future workplace plans. These questions may not resonate with everyone—but they need to be discussed without fear of getting ignored, called out, or worse.  

It is important that companies incorporate it into all employee training and rethink how to continuously foster psychologically safe environments. The result is an improved sense of well-being and engagement among employees, which ultimately results in better performance and a greater sense of belonging to company values.