Jennifer Ferrand, PsyD, director of the Well-Being Department, presents important information on psychological safety at new colleague orientation. Photo by Chris Rakoczy

Do you ever have thoughts like “If I ask a question, I’ll look dumb” or “I’ll be in trouble if they know I made a mistake”? There is no reason this internal dialogue you may have experienced since childhood should follow you to work as an adult.

Well, if you work in a psychologically safe environment, that is.

“Psychological safety is knowing you won’t be punished or humiliated if you admit to mistakes, offer new or different ideas, or share concerns about things at work,” says Jennifer Ferrand, PsyD, director,Hartford HealthCare Well-Being Department.

Why is psychological safety important?

Fostering psychological safety at work, Dr. Ferrand explains, allows creativity and innovation to thrive and people to be happier. This sense of contentment means the team is more enthusiastic and productive.

Research by the Harvard Business Review and Gallup into the benefits of high work psychological safety include:

  • 27% drop in turnover
  • 76% more engagement
  • 50% increase in productivity
  • 74% less stress
  • 29% more life satisfaction
  • 57% more collaboration
  • 26% greater skills preparedness as teams learn faster
  • 67% higher chance workers apply new skills at work

“In a Ted Talk (, Amy Edmonson, a Harvard Business School professor of leadership and management, says every time someone who does not feel psychologically safe withholds a question or input, we all lose the opportunity to learn and innovate,” Dr. Ferrand says. “The most successful work environments support every person, encouraging them to ask, share and learn.

How can we get there?

To create such an environment, she says organization leaders and managers must be supportive, collaborative, inclusive, open-minded and approachable.

“Colleagues should trust that they are empowered to contribute and valued for those contributions,” Dr. Ferrand notes.

She offers these guidelines for leaders to create an environment that builds and sustains psychological safety:

  1. Keep communication open. If people seem reluctant to share, ask them for feedback directly. That makes them feel valued and allows them to be themselves because you won’t be judgmental or negative.
  2. Be honest and vulnerable. When you acknowledge your own flaws and mistakes, you build trust. Colleagues feel that they, too, can speak up because it’s safe.
  3. Model curiosity. Ask a lot of questions, encouraging team members to ask their own. This underscores the need to hear and value a variety of voices.
  4. Encourage learning. Colleagues who feel safe at work often want to learn more skills, and there are various opportunities to pursue. Work with human resources to find out more.

“In our universal quest to be high-quality organizations, we need to remember that these feelings of excellence start from within. Building up the skills and psychological safety of our teams is the best way to do that,” Dr. Ferrand says.

Hartford HealthCare is committed to a culture of safety. If you feel psychologically unsafe, share that with a leader.

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