A healthy work environment is essential for performance and higher employee engagement. Everyone wants to work in a safe and comfortable place, where they are encouraged to express themselves freely and made to feel relevant in the decision-making process. We are encouraged to perform better when we feel comfortable asking for help, sharing suggestions, or challenging the status quo without fear of harassment, victimisation, or negative social consequences.
“I want to work in a psychologically safe environment” is not the sentence most leaders hear or expect from their teams – but it is the one thing that matters to 100% of professionals everywhere; whether they are aware of the terminology. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2021 survey revealed that “85% of employees are not engaged in the workplace, while 73% of employees are considering leaving their jobs”.
In today’s ever-changing world of work, what tools and resources are beneficial to building trust, transparency, authenticity, and honesty among team members to foster cohesion? What are the specific skills and behaviours leaders can develop to instil psychological safety in a work environment? And how does promoting effective leadership behaviours among team members enhance psychological safety?
This is What Experts Say
“Psychological Safety is the opportunity to challenge the status-quo within the limits of what you are allowed. It is also the feeling of inclusiveness and safety needed to contribute to the whole. It has a safe environment to express yourself (personality, competence, and experience) without fear of making mistakes as part of the learning experience”, says Mr. Roland Baah Teye, Consulting Partner, Deloitte Ghana.
From a team’s perspective, Mr. Teye added that Psychological Safety is “having that shared belief within that, there is no interpersonal risk, and the assurance that one’s behaviours and utterances or contributions would not be looked at in a way that makes one feel that they are being punished or marginalised in any way”.
Dr. Ebenezer Agbettor, who is the Executive Director for the Chartered Institute of Human Resource Management (Ghana) views Psychological Safety as “a place where the culture of openness and transparency or engagement are part of the norm and as a result of that helps employees to feel comfortable to air their views, without fear of retribution, intimidation or harassment or victimisation”. He adds that this culture helps build a shared belief that the team is safe, takes risks, and appreciates their creativity and innovation.
Cultural Orientation & The Ghanaian Context
Dr. Agbettor argues that in the Ghanaian society, this is primarily a result of how one is nurtured. Saying that “Within the Ghanaian society, older people or leaders are always right. So, when you don’t question them, it means you are respectful. You cannot go anywhere and question people”.
“Our educational system builds you up so that only those who are able to reproduce exactly what the teacher has given them, do well.” the seasoned HR practitioner reveals that the educational system does not promote psychological safety. If one questions, they are quickly perceived as attacking the person advancing that idea.
He continues, “You are not allowed to use your own creative way to explain something that brings out the same meaning. In the end, they produce graduates who enter the job arena who do not want to question anything because that is how they have been made”.
Mr. Nixon Amoah-Awuah, Managing Director of CarvinClay People Development, concurs. Recounting such a situation in the workplace, he shares a situation where an employee asked the VP some very tough questions during a town hall in an assertive tone. The employee later recounted how about half of the workforce in the company had come to him after that incident, advising him to start finding a new job.
The kind of leader you are, Dr. Agbettor reiterates, determines if team members are going to be ridiculed or would be welcomed when they share their ideas. “In essence, you still have a long way to go as a leader to develop the mindset that allows others to be participatory”.
Psychological State of People & Organisational Culture
Mr. Teye shares that depending on how you process the information that gets to you and the environment you find yourself in when you are given an opportunity, you decide to either speak up or be quiet.
“Having high emotional intelligence and the ability to set the right tone and attitudes within a particular context determines the extent to which people are able to open up and express themselves”, he reveals.
Experts say an organisation’s culture also plays an active role in how willing and confident or otherwise team members are to question processes and systems. According to Mr. Teye, “There are some organisations where when you enter, you can easily learn how things are done, but at other places, things are more restrictive, and you cannot even tell whether or not you can voice your ideas.”
Tips To Remember
Written By: Nana Afia Tenkoramaa – Communications Assistant
[Insights were taken from the CarvinClay Thought-Leadership Webinar on Building Psychological Safety Within Teams. Click here for a full recording of the event.