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Psychological safety definition

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Psychological safety definition

Psychological safety, a term coined by Harvard Business School professor, Amy Edmondson, refers to feeling safe to take interpersonal risks, to speak up, to disagree openly, and to raise concerns without fear of negative repercussions or pressure to sugar coat bad news. 

Since the term was coined in 1999, the benefits of psychological safety in the workplace have been well established. According to one McKinsey survey, an overwhelming  89% of employee respondents said they believe that psychological safety in the workplace is essential.  

The impact of psychological safety extends to many aspects within the workplace, as it substantially contributes to team effectiveness, learning, employee retention, and—most critically—better decisions and better performance. The LGBTQIA+ movement gave rise to the idea of safe spaces, which is being extended to all minority groups. It should be a place of inclusivity and respect for all employees, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or identity. For example, providing safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ employees is crucial for their wellbeing and productivity, in addition to their safety. These safe spaces can have a significant impact on creating an inclusive workplace where all workers can succeed. 

Real-world context

  • Wellbeing at work: Psychological safety contributes to wellbeing by fostering an atmosphere where people can accept change and feel confident that there is a way to resolve conflicts. This encourages the testing and consideration of novel strategies without endangering the team's cohesiveness. Additionally, it facilitates learning from instances where outcomes do not go as planned by providing a safe environment for introspection, free from the worry of unfair culpability. 
  • Leadership development: The most significant factor in psychological safety is a positive team environment, which is most likely to arise when leaders act in a consultative and supportive manner before pushing their people. Leaders act as catalysts, giving other team leaders—even those without official authority—the power and ability to support the development of psychological safety by setting an example and encouraging the actions they want from the other members 

  • Safe spaces: Psychological safety is essential in establishing safe spaces. Any place where someone feels secure in the knowledge that they won't face prejudice, criticism, or bodily or emotional harm is considered a safe space. In this setting, people are treated with dignity, feel encouraged and accepted, and are free to express themselves without worrying about prejudice or judgement.  

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