Psychological Safety at Work: A New Mission for Managers?

How can managers succeed in their roles? With the rapid evolution of the workplace, the answer is becoming increasingly complex. In this article, let’s delve into a particular concept: psychological safety.

According to a recent study, only 11% of managers claim to have been adequately prepared for this role. As if it were merely the result of a promotion for a deserving individual or a natural progression for an experienced employee… rather than a genuine profession in itself that requires learning and the development of specific skills.

The issue is all the more critical as it carries a significant hidden cost for companies. According to the Gallup Institute, over half of employees leave a company to get away from a superior! It must be said that the task is becoming increasingly difficult with digitalization, which “flattens” organizations and forces managers to reconsider their approach to teams.

“The missions and ambitions of managers of the new wave are broad, ranging from supporting and developing the team to creating value for the organization, to the desire to advance organizational practices,” state Julie Tremblay-Potvin and Marie-Andrée Mackrous, founders of the company De Saison – Art de Vivre.

All of this in a post-pandemic context where all employees are increasingly absent from the office… and ready to give their all for their work!

Leaders Serving Their Teams, Not the Other Way

Around In 2012, Google conducted a study to identify what makes a team effective. A few years later, an unexpected point emerged: the individual quality of team members matters less than psychological safety in the workplace, by far the most critical factor in a team’s success.

Psychological safety is a collectively shared belief that team members can take interpersonal risks without negative repercussions,” defines Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School.

She is one of the leading experts on the subject and has devoted a book to it, “The Fearless Organization.” According to her, a climate that allows employees to speak freely without fear of judgment or, in extreme cases, losing their jobs, promotes learning, innovation, and business growth. Psychological safety creates a virtuous circle with errors being reported more quickly and better collaboration.

Managers are clearly on the front line for creating conditions of this climate of benevolence and thus healthy performance. Instead of opting for a fear-based approach, the old posture of “command and control,” they must now inspire confidence in their teams and inspire them (this is called servant leadership).

How to Establish a Climate of Psychological Safety?

Amy Edmondson suggests three steps:

1. Define a New Framework within the Company

The company must make everyone aware of the rules and expectations regarding failures, feedback, freedom of speech… A way to align everyone and eliminate all behaviors that can disrupt this psychological safety (such as derogatory remarks in meetings, for example).

2. Encourage Employees to Speak Up

This announcement of rules must be followed in practice by giving teams the ability to freely challenge practices or organizational modes of the company authentically. Managers must here demonstrate listening, humility, and empathy.

3. Take Appropriate Measures

Finally, letting teams easily voice their grievances is pointless if they are not taken into consideration and addressed. The ability of a company to respond to the doubts and criticisms of employees is thus the linchpin of this entire process.

Amy Edmondson also speaks of four levels of securing: inclusion (feeling belonging to the group), learning (the sensation of being able to develop one’s skills), contribution (the ability to make a difference at one’s level), and questioning (the authorization to be able to resolve situations).

While managers are not solely responsible for the psychological safety of an organization, they remain both the vectors and the guarantors!

Discover our trainings :