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What is the Psychological Safety Model?

What is the psychological safety model and why does it matter in the workplace?

Founded by LeaderFactor CEO Timothy R. Clark, The Psychological Safety model is a framework that focuses on encouraging and rewarding vulnerability in the workplace.

The foundation of this model is based on the knowledge that employees should feel safe to express their feelings and thoughts at work in order to perform their best.

However, if we were to count how many employees feel confident enough to share their point of view, we wouldn’t be surprised. A 24 country survey from Ipsos (2012) states that merely 47% of global workers state that their workplace is psychologically healthy. This data evidences the increasing need for safer environments from a psychological perspective.

In this article, we’ll talk about the Psychological Safety model. And, we’ll discuss why it matters in the workplace, and how to implement it in your own organisation.

what is the psychological safety model global stats

What is the Psychological Safety model?

The Psychological Safety Model works towards the promotion and de-stigmatization of acts of vulnerability. In this model, acts such as asking questions, providing feedback, and disagreeing with certain opinions are supported rather than punished. In the words of Clark, “where you have Psychological Safety you have high performing and inclusive cultures.”

An organisation that fails to provide a psychologically safe environment becomes quickly devoid of favourable working conditions. As an example, if a worker is reprimanded by a team member  for asking what’s considered an “obvious” question, they’ll no longer feel driven to ask any more questions. They are likely to feel afraid that the reprimand might recur.

As a consequence, this worker may feel hostile towards the team member in question. They may be less motivated to go to work, and bad-mouth the business to their friends and acquaintances. It may be the case that a lot of others feel the exact same way. This doesn’t just harm the development of a single worker, but the development of the company as a whole.

Now, when an employee feels safe to ask questions and speak up about their difficulties, their work experience improves. And so does customer experience. That’s how Psychological Safety is able to transform entire companies. They do it by developing a foundation for higher productivity, increased innovation, and employee wellbeing.

what is the psychological safety model

The 4 stages of psychological safety

The 4 stages build upon one another. If you have Challenger Safety in your organisation, you have the highest level of psychological safety.

Inclusion Safety

When we feel approved by others, we feel good about ourselves for doing things the right way. On the contrary, when we aren’t validated by those around us, it’s common to think that we aren’t welcome in that space. This thought, although it may not be supported by evidence, makes us less willing to participate in groups.

Feeling like we belong brings us a sense of fulfilment. We find ourselves in a place where we aren’t embarrassed to share our thoughts. This, in turn, raises our self-esteem and self-confidence.

Learner Safety

People are always looking to grow in their occupations. Yet, for that to happen, they need to learn how to do their jobs properly.

Employees should feel safe at every step of their learning process. After all, learning involves acquainting themselves with new circumstances. And this includes asking questions and making mistakes. Being free to go through this process allows people to feel more confident in taking risks instead of limiting their potential.

Contributor Safety

Whether at work or any social setting, people want to feel like they’re being helpful.

Without Contributor Safety, they’ll do tasks not because they’re motivated to do them, but simply because those tasks need to be done. If employees aren’t reassured that their contribution is significant, they won’t be enthusiastic or intentional about their actions.

On the other hand, when people know they’re contributing to something bigger, they’ll want to continuously use their skills to make a difference.

challnger safety psychological safety Challenger Safety

For some employees, the thought of standing up to one’s beliefs and opinions is unfathomable. This is why Challenger Safety is the highest level of Psychological Safety. It allows employees to challenge the status quo with confidence, while dismissing the fear of being called out for it. This, in return, gives them a thumbs-up for continuous innovation and creativity.

Without this stage, organisations will remain stuck in the same old systems, a lot of which may be harmful to the company’s reputation. As such, managers should encourage a culture that challenges the norm.

The importance of the Psychological Safety model for team members

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The positive effects of Psychological Safety bring team members the reliable work environment they have been looking for, but were unable to find in previous job opportunities. Being employed in a genuinely safe place reassures workers that their participation is crucial for company success.

With Psychological Safety, leaders can escape the largest contradiction of modern organisations. Think about it: at the same time team members are required to be innovative, productive, and happy, they’re punished for stating their own opinions. They’re deterred from doubting, challenging, or disliking the status quo. As a result, this set of circumstances fuels spiteful interactions among team members.

This is the polar opposite of what successful organisations should strive for. In order to leave harmful patterns behind, businesses should vouch for significant cultural changes. And such changes should stem from a psychologically safe environment.

How to create psychological safety at work

Remove the obstacles around speaking up

The best way to do this is by showing your team that speaking up won’t prompt negative consequences. You can start by thanking employees for their feedback, preferably publicly. And be sure to let them know whenever their opinion has been helpful.

You’ll notice this tactic is effective when more of your employees start providing their point of view.

Help them feel included

If employees aren’t sure of whether presence is valuable or dismissable, whether in a day-to-day discussion or in a meeting, they’ll feel disengaged and excluded.

To avoid that, do your best to include your team in important decisions. You could even authorise them to make decisions without you. Not only will this boost their confidence and morale, but it’ll show them that you trust them enough to create a better workplace for everybody.

Make them conscious of their improvement

When their efforts pay off, people realise that they’re doing a great job of learning. Here, “paying off” could mean anything from getting a promotion to having a manager say words like “great job”.

Recognising employees for a job well done and being intentional about it can be a game-changer. If you truly appreciate them and their work, tell them in your best possible words. Once you see an improvement in performance, you’ll know this was the right decision to make.

Teach them the importance of challenging the status quo

If your team isn’t challenging the current set of circumstances and striving to push their boundaries, you could be setting your company up for failure. Doesn’t innovating mean leaving old patterns for new opportunities?

Trouble is, most employees see this type of challenge as an offence rather than a necessary thing. And while allowing them to disagree with the status quo doesn’t mean tolerating disrespect, you should discredit the idea that their bold opinions are unwelcome. You should encourage and support those points of view, instead.

How psychologically safe is your workplace

Book a mental health training session at your workplace today

Companies could achieve so much more if they focused on Psychological Safety as much as they focus on physical safety for their employees. In effect, employees won’t be as productive and happy as they can be without a proper Psychological Safety Model in place.

As a caveat, Psychological Safety won’t be effective unless it’s implemented through a reliable set of best practices. For the right results, The Mental Health Coach can provide your entire organisation with our Mental Health Training For Workplaces, based on the original Psychological Safety model by Timothy R. Clarke.

Get in touch with us to start creating a mentally healthy and productive work environment, starting today.


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