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Why it is worth investing in psychological safety

Psychological safety is the result of a culture of trust and the "booster" for performance in teams. Could ISO 45003 be the "game changer" and driving force for effective psychological safety management in the workplace?

According to the Great Place To Work organization, teams with high psychological safety work together 10 times more effectively than teams motivated by monetary incentives such as bonuses or compensation.

But, what happens when psychological safety is missing?

Source: LeaderFactor survey (T.Clark).

Psychological safety isn't a new approach - but is becoming increasingly important in an ever more rapidly changing environment characterized by uncertainty. Numerous scientific studies have been conducted and results published in the past. Amy C. Edmondson is considered one of the world's most influential thinkers in management and human resource development and has been dedicated to understanding psychological safety for about 20 years. In her book, "the fearless organization," she shares her insights. She has defined psychological safety as "the belief that the work environment is safe enough to take interpersonal risks in."

Much of her research and that of others has shown that psychological safety improves innovation, continuous learning, morale, engagement and retention. It is imperative that psychological safety be combined with a commitment to excellence and an ambition to achieve meaningful goals.

Timothy Clark describes the following 4 stages in his book "The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety":

  1. inclusion safety - I feel safe to express my personality.

  2. learner safety - I feel able to give and receive feedback and make mistakes.

  3. contribution safety - I feel safe to contribute my own ideas without fear of being ridiculed or laughed at.

  4. challenger safety - I feel safe to challenge others' ideas (including those in charge) or suggest significant changes to ideas, plans, or ways of working.

To get to breakthrough innovation, the 4th and final stage must be reached.

People and teams move forward and backward through these different stages, skipping stages and moving into and through different "stages" in different contexts, at different times of day, and on different teams: It is useful to think about the context in which psychological safety increases and how this manifests.

The topic got a big boost in 2015, when the 2-billion-dollar titan Google examined 180 different teams over two years with the "Project Aristotle" to identify patterns of their success or factors of successful collaboration in teams.

What was the result of the project?

According to Julia Rozovsky, part of the People Analytics research team, it found that team effectiveness depended less on the people on the team and more on how they worked together. In doing so, the researchers identified the same themes in the standout teams over and over again and pinpointed the five most common as pillars of effectiveness.

Psychological safety was identified as the most important factor. The other four factors build on it.

The topic of psychological safety was also taken up by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO). In June 2021, the guideline ISO 45003:2021 "Management of health and safety at work - Psychological health and safety at work" was adopted. This is because the importance of the human factor has always been part of the central theme of any company geared towards sustainable success. When employees are absent, this entails high organizational and financial costs. Studies show that about one fifth of lost working days are due to work-related anxiety.

With the link to ISO, the issue is addressed to the management and should be understood and integrated as part of the corporate culture.

ISO 45003 is the first global standard to provide practical guidance on managing psychological safety in the workplace, helping organizations to continuously create a safer and more positive work environment that is also economically rewarding.

Together with Philipp Engstler from flowdays, we launched a webinar series on psychological safety last year, which we will continue in 2023. If you are interested to learn more about this topic and to get more insights, please contact me by mail.



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