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Psychological Safety at Work: Putting it Into Practice


Psychological safety is the foundation of a healthy work environment. It is a shared belief among team members that they can take risks and speak up without fear of retaliation or negative consequences. To sum it up, it’s a culture of rewarded vulnerability. When employees feel safe and valued, they are more likely to engage in collaborative work, offer innovative ideas, and take on new challenges. In this article, we will explore the concept of psychological safety at work, the four stages of psychological safety, and how to implement them in your workplace.

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is a term that describes the feeling of being safe and supported in one's work environment. It means that team members feel comfortable speaking up and taking risks, without fear of ridicule or retribution. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to engage in productive behaviors such as knowledge-sharing, innovation, and taking initiative.

There are several factors that contribute to psychological safety in the workplace. These include:

Trust: Employees need to feel that they can trust their colleagues and leaders. Trust is built through transparent communication, reliable follow-through, and consistent support.

Respect: Employees need to feel respected and valued for their contributions. Respect is built through inclusive practices, active listening, and acknowledging the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of team members.

Communication: Open communication is essential for psychological safety. Team members need to feel that they can express their opinions and ideas without fear of ridicule or judgment.

The Four Stages of Psychological Safety

Dr. Timothy R. Clark, author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety, outlines four stages of psychological safety that are essential for creating a safe and productive work environment. They follow the natural progression of human needs in social settings and apply regardless of geographics, demographics, or psychographics. These stages are:

Inclusion Safety: 

In this stage, team members feel safe to be themselves and feel that their unique perspectives are valued. Inclusion safety is built through creating a culture of belonging, actively listening to diverse perspectives, and engaging in empathy-based communication.

Learner Safety:

 In this stage, team members feel safe to ask questions, seek feedback, and learn from their mistakes. Learner safety is built through creating a culture of continuous learning, promoting psychological flexibility, and encouraging experimentation and risk-taking.

Contributor Safety: 

In this stage, team members feel safe to contribute their ideas and take initiative. Contributor safety is built through creating a culture of accountability, encouraging ownership and responsibility, and recognizing and rewarding contributions.

Challenger Safety: 

In this stage, team members feel safe to challenge the status quo, speak truth to power, and offer constructive criticism. Challenger safety is built by creating a culture of candor, promoting conversations that reward dissent, and engaging in constructive conflict.

Implementing Psychological Safety at Work

Creating a culture of psychological safety at work requires deliberate effort and commitment from leadership and team members. To implement psychological safety in the workplace, it is essential to identify the areas that need improvement to create a safer work environment. This can be achieved through employee surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews. Once the areas for improvement have been identified, there are different strategies that can be used to create psychological safety. These include open communication, feedback culture, and supportive leadership. It is also important to establish clear expectations and guidelines for behavior, provide training and development opportunities, and recognize and reward positive behavior.

Here are some practical tips for implementing psychological safety in your workplace:

Assess Your Current Level of Psychological Safety 

Before implementing any changes, it's important to assess your current level of psychological safety. By identifying areas that need improvement, you can create a targeted action plan to build psychological safety in those areas. Measuring psychological safety is less common than your typical engagement survey. Although most engagement surveys are adopting a question or two about psychological safety, that’s not giving you the whole picture of the culture of your team. Use a psychological safety survey that specifically targets psychological safety and encompasses its four stages to determine where you need to improve psychological safety in your organization.

Measuring Psychological Safety

Measuring psychological safety in the workplace is crucial to understanding the current state of psychological safety and identifying areas for improvement. Surveys and assessments are effective tools for measuring psychological safety. It is essential to use a validated tool that measures the specific aspects of psychological safety that are relevant to the organization. Once the results of the assessment have been received, it is important to interpret and act on the data. This involves sharing the results with employees, identifying areas for improvement, and developing action plans to address those areas.

Encourage Open Communication 

Encourage team members to speak up, ask questions, and share their perspectives. Create a culture of active listening and empathy-based communication. Model the behavior you want to see from your team members. If you’re not ready and willing to hear about what’s not going well or not working on your teams, how can you build psychological safety at all? Ask for feedback often, and in different settings. Depending on the levels of psychological safety on your teams, you may need to ask earnestly a couple of times before employees believe that they’re safe to speak up. Reward that act of vulnerability and address their concerns quickly.

The Benefits of Psychological Safety at Work

Creating a psychologically safe work environment has numerous benefits for both employees and organizations. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to share their ideas and opinions, ask for help, and collaborate with others. This leads to better decision-making, improved problem-solving, and increased innovation. Psychological safety also fosters trust and mutual respect among employees, which leads to stronger relationships and improved teamwork. In addition, organizations that prioritize psychological safety tend to have higher levels of employee engagement, job satisfaction, and retention.


Psychological safety is critical to creating a safe and productive work environment. By implementing the four stages of psychological safety and measuring psychological safety, organizations can create a culture of psychological safety that leads to numerous benefits for employees and the organization as a whole. We encourage readers to prioritize psychological safety in their organizations to create a safe and inclusive workplace.

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