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Why is everyone (suddenly) talking about psychological safety?

Whether you are an organisational leader, an HR practitioner, or someone working in organisational development, you would have likely come across the term ‘psychological safety’. While the concept was introduced in the 60’s and has been extensively researched over the decades, it has recently become a widespread topic of interest. Particularly during and after the pandemic, the interest in creating workplaces that are conducive to employees has grown exponentially. From a research point of view, nearly 2,000 articles discussing psychological safety have been published since 2019. From an industry perspective, most leaders and employees alike have become familiar with the concept even though many associate psychological safety with mental wellbeing – unsurprising given the term ‘psychological’. Find out more about psychological safety here and understand why it is different from mental wellbeing here.


From work that predominantly focused on production where the interest was related to how to make things as efficient as possible, while avoiding physical injury to workers, we’ve now moved to a world relying increasingly on knowledge workers. In this context, engaging at work, sharing ideas, giving feedback, collaborating with one another and creative input are all vital ingredients that enable organisations to perform well. Particularly with the increasing focus on employee-centric work, organisational leaders now understand the importance of taking care of their people and creating environments where people can participate, share ideas and work in teams effectively.


So then, has there really been a sudden increase in interest in psychological safety? Yes. The concept has been defined and researched for decades now, but the interest from industry experts has grown dramatically recently and here’s why.


It is a vital factor in employee-centric workplaces.

Employees are recognising the importance of prioritising their wellbeing and acknowledging that their needs matter. As a result, they are advocating for workplaces that value them and provide favourable conditions conducive to engagement and participation without barriers. Psychological safety is crucial in such environments, fostering trust, collaboration, and innovation among team members. It enables employees to voice opinions, share ideas, and take risks without fear. When employees feel psychologically safe, they engage fully, boosting productivity and job satisfaction, thus enhancing individual wellbeing and an overall organisational culture for long-term success.


In the context of remote work and virtual teams, psychological safety is important now more than ever.

With the widespread adoption of remote work and the rise of virtual teams, maintaining psychological safety has become even more crucial. In these settings, communication tends to be more mediated, which can lead to misunderstandings or conflicts. Establishing psychological safety within virtual teams is essential for building trust among team members, particularly among those who may not have the opportunity for frequent face-to-face interaction. It ensures that employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and ideas, ultimately fostering a collaborative and productive remote work environment.


Psychological safety is the foundation of innovation and creative collaboration.

Psychological safety is closely linked to fostering innovation and creativity within organisations. When employees feel safe to share their ideas, take risks, and challenge the status quo without fear of judgment or retribution, it creates a culture conducive to innovation. Organisations increasingly recognise the importance of staying competitive through innovation, making psychological safety a crucial aspect of their workplace culture.


Without psychological safety, inclusion initiatives cannot sustain.

Despite the recent pushbacks in the USA related to DEI strategy and the challenges to the implementation of te Tiriti o Waitangi in New Zealand, the importance of focusing on meaningful inclusion strategy remains. Workplaces are becoming more and more diverse and in leveraging this diversity, creating conditions where all people feel psychologically safe to speak up and participate at work is vital. Psychological safety plays a crucial role in fostering an inclusive culture where employees from diverse backgrounds feel valued, respected, and empowered to bring their unique perspectives to the table.

Psychological safety directly impacts the organisational bottom-line.

Research consistently show that psychological safety positively impacts team performance and organisational success. Teams with higher levels of psychological safety are more likely to engage in open communication, collaboration, and constructive conflict resolution, leading to better outcomes. As organisations seek ways to improve performance and productivity, psychological safety has gained recognition as a critical factor in creating high-performing teams and fostering a positive work environment.


In a world relying on knowledge workers and committed to creating better conditions for their people, psychological safety is – and will remain – an important factor.





© Hansini Gunasekara 2024. All rights reserved. The content on this blog is original and protected by copyright. Unauthorised use, reproduction, or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Hansini Gunasekara with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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