Is 'psychological safety' just another hollow workplace term? Here's what experts say

Is 'psychological safety' just another hollow workplace term? Here's what experts say

With global tech giants on layoff spree, idealistic work-place terminologies like ‘psychological safety’ are going to become more and more pointless.

The truth about psychological safety in 2023 The truth about psychological safety in 2023

The broader thought is that a good workplace is set apart from a mediocre one by the standards of psychological safety it offers its employees. In simple terms, 'psychological safety' refers to a place where you can speak your truth in a place of employment without fear of consequences. Psychological safety has been a buzzword for corporate lingo in 2022 like gaslighting was in the years before.

What is psychological safety
A work environment where you are free to speak and express yourself, your opinion and also contradict with something you do not believe in is a work-environment that displays psychological safety. Psychological safety is the assurance that a work environment can provide to employees so people can freely share their opinion and ideas. Psychological safety, claim management experts, will eventually become the strongest determinant of whether a team is able to perform and deliver. A McKinsey survey, conducted in 2021, showed that development of specific skills can create a safe and high-performance workplace. “When employees feel comfortable asking for help, sharing suggestions informally, or challenging the status quo without fear of negative social consequences, organizations are more likely to innovate quickly, unlock the benefits of diversity, and adapt well to change—all capabilities that have only grown in importance during the COVID-19 crisis.1 Yet a McKinsey Global Survey conducted during the pandemic confirms that only a handful of business leaders often demonstrate the positive behaviors that can instill this climate, termed psychological safety, in their workforce,” the report said.

The changing global scenario and psychological safety
“Much as it has been an ideal buzzword, workplaces globally are far from being psychologically safe. Companies worldwide are projecting an inclusive global work environment, but the inside story as we know, is completely different. There is no way that one can be immune to the psychological pressure of the global retrenchment spree. Diversity inclusions, psychological safety and all other workplace ideals are now poised to become more and more about lip-service. The markets are now dominated by profit-price principle and that’s the truth about the workplace as well,” Bharti Chauhan, Managing Director, Success Torch, a learning and development company, told Business Today.

Worldwide big tech layoffs
Globally, we have already witnessed a massive layoff of over 2 lakh people in 2022. The year 2023 is expected to be no better. Meta, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, Netflix and many other global players laid off employees over the last few months. Amazon, Alphabet owned Google and HP are expected to let go of more employees in 2023.

Rapidly changing work environment and safety
An agile organisational structure that empowers teams to tackle problems quickly by operating outside of bureaucratic or siloed structures requires a strong degree of psychological safety. Psychological safety is a mix of right climate, mindsets, and behaviours within their teams.  The McKinsey report stated: “By setting the tone for the team climate through their own actions, team leaders have the strongest influence on a team’s psychological safety. Moreover, creating a positive team climate can pay additional dividends during a time of disruption. Our research finds that a positive team climate has a stronger effect on psychological safety in teams that experienced a greater degree of change in working remotely.”

Safety despite odds
A Harvard Business Review report on psychological safety states that psychological safety takes time to build but moments to destroy: “The default is for people to hold back, to fail to share even their most relevant thoughts at work if they’re not sure they’ll be well received.” Irrespective of where the global-employment scenario goes, it will continue to be in everyone’s interest to uphold transparency and safety at the workplace.

Author and Human First Leadership Expert, Paul Wolfe told Business Today, "Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. At work, it’s a shared expectation held by members of a team that teammates will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for sharing ideas, taking risks, or soliciting feedback. Psychological safety at work doesn’t mean that everybody is nice to each other all the time. It means that people feel free to “brainstorm out loud,” voice half-finished thoughts, openly challenge the status quo, share feedback, and work through disagreements together — knowing that leaders value honesty, candor, and truth-telling, and that team members will have one another’s backs. With the tech layoffs going on - to me, those are a symptom of poor planning, a strategic plan that does not pan out or economic challenges.  I believe that psychological safety can still exist with the "concerns" employees may have about future layoffs."


Published on: Dec 28, 2022, 3:37 PM IST
Posted by: Sharmila Bhowmick, Dec 28, 2022, 3:14 PM IST