Psychological safety: What employers need to know

When employers are creating an unsafe environment for their employees, HR needs to step in to create safe spaces for productivity and efficiency.
By: | November 9, 2023

In the day-to-day goings in the workplace, the decisions and actions of employers may not create a safe space for employees to work in. However, employees may not necessarily be willing to speak up with their ideas and concerns, creating a dissonance between what employers expect and what employees need.

“Based on Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory in the organisational context, there is a high-power distance in Asian countries,” said Jasmine Liew, Organisation Learning & Development Director, Breakthrough Catalyst LLP,a Psychological Safety Practitioner in Asia, who spoke to HRM Asia at length about the topic.

“Thus, team members may have a fear of speaking up in the presence of a leader who is not open to listening to views and ideas,” Liew continued. Her mission is to spread awareness of the importance of psychological safety, and how it can build a high-performing and innovative team.

Team members, said Liew, could be afraid of taking interpersonal risks as they fear the possible repercussions that may occur for speaking up. She attributes part of the fear to the collectivist culture in Asia as well as groupthink, where team members seek to maintain team harmony and may find it difficult to voice out their discomfort openly.

Liew identified the four pillars of psychological safety in the workplace, which include diversity and inclusion; the willingness to help; an attitude towards risk and failure; and open conversations. To cultivate these pillars, it is important to involve both leaders and team members in all aspects. “By involving the leader and team members, it will enhance the team’s commitment to improving performance, and team members can feel more engaged by bringing their best selves to work and contributing to the team and the organisation,” advised Liew, and HR teams must play the crucial role to bring them together as custodians of organisational culture and fostering psychological safety.

Liew shared that HR teams must start by conducting leadership alignment and gaining commitment from senior leaders, reviewing existing leadership competencies, and reinforcing those competencies that promote psychological safety. “HR can increase the awareness of psychological safety through learning and sharing sessions by sharing how psychological safety is beneficial for the business, the organisation, and its team members,” Liew explained, and it sets the tone and importance that an effective leader needs to have an effective team through psychological safety. This, she added, sets the tone and importance that an effective leaders needs to build an effective team through psychological safety

READ MORE: Embracing emotional inclusion: A paradigm shift in workplace wellness

Sharing collective knowledge and experiences in an office environment between leaders and employees is dependent on a strong climate of psychological safety in the team that encourages them to share their ideas and concerns openly, and adopting a growth mindset toward risks and failures enables team members to learn from mistakes, leading to continuous improvement and development, Liew concluded.