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Emotionally Safe Workplaces—What We Know

Rangam Aug 7, 2023 5:35:35 AM
Three smiling emojis wearing glasses symbolize emotionally safe workplaces

This article by Chandramouli Dhara, Rangam Director of Digital Marketing, was originally published on LinkedIn.

The concept of emotional and psychological safety in the workplace was first identified in 1999 by Amy Edmondson, an organizational behavioral scientist and educator. She found that companies that have a secure and trusted workplace perform better than those that don’t.

Later, in an interview, she elaborated on the concept of emotional safety. She explained emotional safety as a sense of comfort, freedom, and security.

In an emotionally safe workplace, everyone gets together to create an environment where people feel safe to take risks and admit their mistakes. There's no fear of being wrong or judged.

With a sense of emotional safety, people bring their entire selves to work. And that creates a wholly different experience for both employees and employers.

Why Emotional Safety Is Important in the Workplace

In an emotionally safe workplace, people trust and respect each other, which in turn helps every individual to be creative and productive as they feel safe to fail and to not always know the right answers.

An emotionally unsafe work environment, on the other hand, is full of negativities that keep individuals from performing to the best of their potential.

Here are some additional benefits of an emotionally and psychologically safe workplace:

  • Higher Retention and More Referrals: When employees feel safe, they are more likely to stick around longer and also ask their friends to join.
  • Better Teamwork: A sense of safety brings people together and produces amazing synergies that are difficult to achieve when everyone works in silos.
  • Enhanced Creativity: When employees have the freedom to fail and the confidence to bounce back, they begin to explore and come up with out-of-the-box solutions.

All of this leads to a more positive and healthier work environment.

The Secret to Building an Emotionally Safe Workplace

Creating an emotionally safe work environment takes time, energy, proactive thinking, and leadership skills. Let’s dig deep into the playbook.

  • Care and Challenge: A safe workplace has two approaches - care and challenge. It’s important to take care of everyone on the team before challenging them to accomplish more than what they believe they can.
  • Respect the Difference: Individuals don’t always agree with each other, but discussions are a must. Encourage every team member to show mutual respect even in disagreement.
  • Ask Questions: Encourage everyone to chase curiosity and ask questions. Tell them that there’s no such thing as a dumb question. On the contrary, it’s the dumb questions that usually push people to reconsider their way of thinking and solving problems. That’s how we learn and grow together as a team.
  • Appreciate Both Ideas and Mistakes: A mistake is not very far away from a great idea, so it’s important to appreciate both and build a culture in which people are willing to continue sharing their ideas knowing fully well that not all of them are going to go past the drawing board.
  • Put Empathy at the Center of Everything: This one can’t be stressed enough, especially in today’s world. In 2017, one in five US companies provided empathy training to managers. According to the latest Businessolver® State of Workplace Empathy Study, over 90% of employees, HR professionals, and CEOs are of the opinion that empathy is increasingly becoming a key success factor for their businesses.

How Employees Can Contribute to Building an Emotionally Safe Workplace

As we’ve already discussed, the process of building an emotionally and psychologically safe workplace starts at the top. However, employees must also participate in this process for it to trickle down across the board. To quote Amy Edmondson: “You might not be the most powerful person in the organization, and that’s okay. How you show up still matters.”

So how do employees cultivate emotional safety in the workplace? Here are some simple practices:

  • Be Opinionated: Have a voice and embrace your vulnerability by showing up and being seen.
  • Be Accountable: Take responsibility. Acknowledge your mistakes and lack of knowledge rather than hiding them.
  • Learn Continuously: Be an active learner. Learn new technologies, strategies, and skills every day.
  • Build Relationships: Nurture relations with colleagues. Share knowledge and exchange ideas with others to boost engagement, collegiality, and productivity.
  • Appreciate More: A word of encouragement goes a long way in building trust and camaraderie. Thank your team often. Even when someone fails, recognize their efforts.
  • Be Purpose-Driven: Put purpose first. Knowing the purpose of our work gives us a clear path forward and places us in an emotionally safe zone.

Bringing It All Together

Embracing all these practices will help both employers and employees build emotionally and psychologically safe workplaces where an individual can feel more appreciated and accepted to bring their entire selves and contribute to the success and growth of the organization as well as themselves.

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