“Psychological Safety is the key to creating a workspace where people can be confident enough to act without undue fear of being ridiculed, punished or fired – and be humble enough to openly doubt what is believed and done”– Robert I. Sutton

A psychologically safe workspace should be the goal of every employer or organisation and, on the flip side, what every employee should look forward to and expect in a workplace, irrespective of the industry.

“Low levels of psychological safety can create a culture of silence. They can also create a Cassandra culture – an environment in which speaking up is belittled and warning to unheeded. – Amy C. Edmondson


Dr. Amy Edmondson defines Psychological Safety as, “the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.  There is a shared expectation that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking”.

There are advantages to establishing an enviable and flourishing work environment or culture, which arguably translate into productivity on all fronts for a business. To name a few, these advantages include enhanced engagement among employees, reduced turnover rates, employees owning the vision, and encouraging initiative and creativity. Many would agree that these are certainly good for any business in operation.

Creating a Safe Space

“A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.” – Simon Sinek

How does an organisation create, cultivate and maintain such an environment? With some creativity, an organisation can achieve this, taking into consideration its own traditions and existing office culture. Without throwing away the baby with the bath water, here are a few guidelines to help achieve this.

  • Clearly establish norms and expectations. The culture should be one that helps employees thrive.
  • Request feedback and opinions with the genuine purpose of needing them for decision-making. Be objective with your reaction to feedback.
  • An awareness of others should be encouraged – being conscious of how people feel and respond to you and to what is happening around them. Team members should learn to be great listeners and be unafraid to seek clarification when needed. People are discerning enough to know when they are just being heard and not listened to.
  • The culture of gratitude is a key ingredient of a psychologically safe environment. Recognise and reward initiative.
  • Everyone needs support at one time or the other. Being supportive of team members in work-related and non-work-related issues certainly has an impact on work output.
  • Check in and follow up on your team-mates regularly
  • The establishment of quick and effective lines of communication and feedback is required. In addition, team members should be able to make use of informal communication channels. Reducing bottlenecks in the system is also helpful.
  • Ensure physical safety. To enhance psychological safety, ensure that the place of work, if it is a physical building, has good enough security to help handle the unforeseen. Similarly, employees should benefit from cyber security and other forms of security built into the system. Physical security certainly feeds positively into psychological safety for team members.
  • Engage employees to discuss, guide, and establish what their expected career paths are. Encourage employees to improve their lives. It is likely employees will interact and engage better when they realise their interests are important to the organisation they work with.


“Freedom from fear requires feeling safe. If you feel safe, you run experiments. You stop asking permission. You avoid long, mind-numbing meetings. You create a new kind of culture in which you accept that mistakes are inevitable. You learn that small, fast mistakes are preferable to the big, slow, deadly mistakes you are making today”. – Richard Sheridan

Customers receive the best care and attention when an organisation’s internal customers (employees) feel safe, valued, and appreciated. Employees become present in the moment – at work. They become more self-aware and aware of others too.

The challenge for organisations is the process of transforming a not-too-good culture where there is fear of failure, judgment, a blame culture, and a lack of initiative, to name a few, into a thriving space that works for everyone at work.

“If a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower” – Alexander Den Heijer. Is your space psychologically safe?

Freda Abah-Dakou

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