During a recent interview, a candidate asked,“With your years of experience, I’m sure you’ve seen lots of change in HR. What would you say has been one of the most significant changes?”
While there have been many changes in the HR landscape, one of the most significant, in my opinion, is the shift in how leaders must lead with empathy, vulnerability, and authenticity to support psychological safety. According to Gartner, a research and consulting firm, psychological safety is an environment that encourages, recognizes, and rewards individuals for their contributions and ideas by making individuals feel safe when taking interpersonal risks.
While psychological safety is a relatively new concept, it’s one that is driving significant change in how organizations think about their people. For as long as I can remember, leaders have been coached on the importance of being genuine and compassionate but, at the same time,engaging in personal discussions has historically been frowned upon, considered taboo, and therefore avoided.
However, in the past several years, a number of factors have driven a critical shift in the importance of having these discussions and creating psychological safety in the workplace.
The multigenerational workforce has changed how we connect with our teams. Younger workers are increasingly aware of their thoughts and feelings and are more open to expressing them. They seek a work environment that embraces a culture of authenticity and inclusivity, without judgment.
“To create a truly safe environment, psychological safety must be embedded in your culture and embraced by everyone – and this takes time, effort and patience.”
Widespread recognition and acknowledgment of social and racial injustices have resulted in a need for companies to provide safe spaces where employees can share their stories and personal experiences, connect with others, and feel supported.
And, of course, we can’t discount the enduring impact of COVID-19. The pandemic turned how we live upside down and navigating through the uncertainty of the past few years has changed how we interact with others, both personally and professionally.
The need to understand our employees’ lives outside of the workplace and create a culture where they feel emotionally and intellectually safe is more important than ever. To create a truly safe environment, psychological safety must be embedded in your culture and embraced by everyone – and this takes time, effort, and patience.
So, as a leader, and with the company’s encouragement, I took the first steps with my own team. I remember initiating discussions and facing blank stares and silence. But as a leader, it was my job to lean in, be vulnerable, and share my experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Only then did others dip their toe in the pool. By making this approach part of our regular interactions, as a team and in one-on-one settings, I started to see a shift. Our interactions expanded beyond issues and concerns to learning more about each other on a personal level, ultimately building a stronger, more cohesive and trusting team where everyone feels comfortable sharing, asking questions and challenging the status quo without fear of judgment.
Is it easy? No. Is it comfortable? Not always. Is it worth the effort? Yes! And while there is no playbook, I’m working with my team to build a charter of our non-negotiable commitments to which we hold each other accountable. And because everyone has input, these commitments have a far greater chance of sticking.
If you’re looking to build psychological safety within your team, here are a few of my best practices:
• Lead by example and show your team you’re engaged
• Engage in active listening and show that you are genuinely interested
• Build a psychological safety charter with commitments and team-wide buy-in
• Embrace curiosity and ask questions for understanding
• Don’t blame. Mistakes will happen – admit when they do, be genuine, and accountable
• Include your team in decision making
• Be open to feedback
• Champion your team
In my experience, embedding psychological safety into your workplace culture is s game changer. It improves performance, engagement, and commitment and employees who feel psychologically safe are less likely to consider opportunities elsewhere.