What is Psychological Safety and How to Build it in the Workplace

Psychological safety, a term widely recognized in organizational behavior, refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in their work environment. 

Dr. Timothy R. Clark in 2020 explained it as the ability to feel included, safe to learn, safe to contribute, and safe to challenge the status quo—without fear of embarrassment, marginalization, or punishment.

For example, in a psychologically safe workplace, an employee might propose an unconventional solution during a team meeting. Instead of fearing ridicule or dismissal, they are met with open minds and constructive feedback. Their colleagues listen attentively, ask questions to understand better, and discuss the merits of the idea respectfully, regardless of whether it is ultimately implemented. This encourages not only the original speaker but also their teammates to share their own ideas and suggestions freely, fostering an innovative and collaborative environment.

Why Does Psychological Safety Matter in Today’s Workforce?

Today’s work culture demands innovation, agility, and teamwork, making psychological safety critical. Employees in psychologically safe environments are more engaged, open to learning, and willing to express creative ideas. When employees know they can take risks and speak up without negative consequences, it leads to creative solutions and advances that keep the company competitive and forward-moving. This culture not only boosts individual and team performance but also enhances overall organizational health.

The Difference Between Psychological Safety and Physical Safety

While physical safety in the workplace focuses on protecting employees from physical harm, psychological safety deals with protecting their social and emotional well-being. Psychological safety ensures that team members feel secure enough to take interpersonal risks, like speaking up with ideas, questions, or concerns without fear of negative repercussions. Both types of safety are crucial, but they serve different purposes: one protects the body, while the other safeguards the mind.

The Benefits of Psychological Safety

Creating a psychologically safe workplace does more than just make the office feel nicer—it leads to real, tangible benefits that can transform a company. In such an environment, innovation flourishes. Employees are not afraid to pitch new ideas or suggest changes. They know their voices are heard and valued, which encourages everyone to think outside the box and bring forward creative solutions.

This sense of safety also boosts employee engagement. When team members feel supported and know their opinions matter, they naturally become more invested in their work. They’re more enthusiastic, more committed, and their day-to-day efforts reflect that energy. This creates a lively, dynamic work atmosphere that’s enjoyable for everyone.

When people work in a place where they feel understood and valued, they tend to stick around. This boosts job satisfaction and employee loyalty, which is great for the company. It means less turnover, fewer resources spent on hiring, and more time spent growing and developing the team you have.

Another significant benefit is how mistakes are treated. In a psychologically safe workspace, a slip-up isn’t a disaster—it’s a learning opportunity. This approach helps everyone learn and bounce back faster, making the whole team more resilient and better equipped for future challenges.

The advantages of psychological safety ripple throughout the entire organization, leading to a more productive, innovative, and committed workplace. It’s about creating an environment where everyone can thrive, contributing to the company’s success and their own personal growth.

Key Indicators of Psychological Safety in the Workplace

To gauge whether a workplace is psychologically safe, you can look for several clear signs that indicate employees feel secure and valued. Here are some concrete examples of what psychological safety might look like in action:

  • Open Communication: Employees frequently engage in discussions where they openly express their thoughts and feelings. For instance, during meetings, you might notice that team members are eager to contribute ideas, ask clarifying questions, or express concerns about a project’s direction without any apparent fear of negative consequences.

  • Mutual Respect: There is an evident mutual respect among colleagues, regardless of their position in the company. This can be seen in daily interactions where people listen attentively to one another, acknowledge different viewpoints, and respond thoughtfully, whether in agreement or disagreement.

  • Comfort in Voicing Disagreements: It’s a good sign when employees can disagree with one another, including with managerial decisions, without any backlash or personal conflict. This could manifest in strategy sessions where team members feel comfortable challenging the status quo or proposing alternative solutions without fear of retribution.

  • Support for Risk-taking: In psychologically safe workplaces, taking calculated risks is encouraged rather than suppressed. You might observe employees pioneering new projects or using innovative approaches to solve problems, supported by an environment that views failures as opportunities for learning rather than reasons for punishment.

  • Recognition of Contributions: Everyone’s contributions are acknowledged and valued, from interns to senior leaders. This might be reflected in regular recognition during team updates, where contributions big and small are highlighted and celebrated.

  • Regular Feedback: Constructive feedback is regularly given and received, suggesting a culture that prioritizes growth and improvement. This feedback is aimed at helping individuals improve their skills and is delivered in a supportive, non-critical manner.

  • Inclusivity in Decision-making: You see inclusivity in action when decisions are made. This includes involving various team members in brainstorming sessions and strategy meetings, ensuring that everyone feels their voice has an impact on the team’s direction.

These indicators not only demonstrate that psychological safety is present but also that it’s a core part of the organizational culture. When employees operate in such an environment, they are more likely to be engaged, productive, and loyal to the company.

Strategies for Building Psychological Safety

We’ve looked at what psychological safety means and why it matters. Now, let’s get practical and talk about how we can actually create a psychologically safe workplace. Here are some straightforward steps to bring these concepts to life in your team:

Encourage Open Dialogue: Make it a regular practice to hold meetings where team members are encouraged to speak their minds. This could be through structured sessions like ‘roundtable discussions’ or through more informal ‘open door’ times when employees can approach management with ideas or concerns. The key is to create a space where speaking up is expected and valued, reflecting the principles of candor and curiosity — where team members can be honest and inquisitive without fear.

Show Empathy and Support: Active listening and responding with empathy when employees share their experiences or concerns can go a long way. This involves acknowledging their feelings, asking questions to understand their perspective better, and providing support or solutions where possible. It’s about making employees feel heard and cared for on a personal level, embodying compassion which strengthens trust and openness within the team.

Set Clear Expectations: Communicate clearly that your organization views mistakes as opportunities for growth. Highlighting and celebrating the learning outcomes of errors can help to normalize them, which helps to destigmatize failure and encourage a growth mindset among all staff. This strategy promotes courage among employees, fostering an environment where they feel safe to try new things and speak up about what they need or think.

Foster Inclusivity and Respect: Actively work to create an environment where diverse perspectives are not just accepted but are seen as an asset. This includes training programs on cultural competency, regular reviews of company policies for inclusiveness, and structured opportunities for diverse team members to lead projects or meetings. Encouraging a culture that values curiosity about others’ experiences and viewpoints can significantly enhance collaborative efforts and innovation.

Lead by Example: Leadership should embody the principles of psychological safety by displaying courage, compassion, candor, and curiosity. This means leaders themselves should be open about their own failures and learning experiences, seek feedback from others, and show genuine interest in the ideas and lives of their team members. Leaders can set a powerful example by living these values, which helps to cement them as foundational aspects of the organizational culture.

What Psychological Safety IS NOT

It’s crucial to clarify what psychological safety does not entail to prevent misconceptions that could undermine its development in the workplace. Psychological safety is not:

Always Being Nice: Ensuring a psychologically safe environment doesn’t mean that everyone always agrees or that feedback is always positive. Instead, it involves honest, constructive interactions that may sometimes require difficult conversations.

Feeling Comfortable All the Time: Growth can be uncomfortable. True psychological safety challenges employees to step out of their comfort zones. This means facing uncomfortable truths and engaging in conversations that might feel risky but are essential for growth.

A Conflict-Free Work Environment: The absence of conflict is the absence of intimacy. Psychological safety allows for healthy conflict and debate, which are necessary for deep collaboration and innovation.

Absence of Challenge: Being in a psychologically safe environment does not mean that tasks and objectives are easy or unchallenging. Rather, it supports taking on challenges without fear of retribution or humiliation.

A One-Time Achievement: Developing psychological safety is not a checkbox activity. It requires ongoing effort and adaptation as teams evolve and new challenges arise.

How to Assess the Level of Psychological Safety in a Workplace

To assess the level of psychological safety in your organization, it’s crucial to look both at how team members interact and at what they’re saying—whether in surveys, one-on-one discussions, or team meetings. Start by observing how freely team members share ideas and concerns during meetings: Are they reluctant or open? Notice if there’s any hesitancy to challenge opinions, especially those of higher-ups, which can be a red flag for low psychological safety.

In addition to watching day-to-day interactions, implementing regular structured feedback mechanisms such as anonymous surveys can provide a safe space for employees to express their thoughts about the workplace dynamics. These surveys should ask direct questions about the ease of speaking up, the response to new ideas, and the comfort level with providing and receiving feedback.

Periodic check-ins with individual team members can also offer deep insights. These conversations allow for a more personal understanding of how safe employees feel about taking risks or bringing up problems and innovations without fear of negative consequences. Together, these strategies will help paint a clearer picture of the psychological safety within your team and highlight areas that may need attention.


Psychological safety is fundamental for a thriving workplace but achieving it is not a one-time effort. It requires continuous commitment to nurturing an environment where employees feel genuinely safe to learn, contribute, and challenge the norm. With around 70% of employees considering leaving their jobs due to a lack of recognition, as noted by SHRM in 2020, the stakes are high. Organizations that prioritize psychological safety not only retain talent but also foster an innovative, resilient workforce poised for success. By actively working on the strategies outlined and continuously monitoring the health of your team’s dynamics, your organization can achieve and maintain the level of psychological safety that propels everyone forward.

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