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Creating Psychological Safety at Work: 3 Keys to a Toxic-Free Workplace
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    Creating Psychological Safety at Work: 3 Keys to a Toxic-Free Workplace

    by Sara J. Baker, Ed.D.

    What is psychological safety? It’s a question that many people are asking lately, as stories of toxic workplaces continue to make the headlines. Psychological safety is a term that was coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmonson in the late 1990s. It refers to a workplace climate in which employees feel safe to take risks and express themselves freely. In other words, it’s a place where people feel comfortable being themselves without fear of retribution.

    Why is Psychological Safety Important?

    Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for taking risks in the workplace. In other words, it is a feeling of confidence and trust in one’s colleagues and leaders. Psychological safety is important because it allows employees to feel comfortable taking risks and speaking up with new ideas.

    When employees feel like they can openly share their thoughts and opinions, they are more likely to come up with creative solutions to problems. This, in turn, leads to a more innovative and productive workplace. Additionally, psychological safety fosters a sense of belonging and collaboration within a team. When everyone feels like they are part of a supportive group, they are more likely to work together towards common goals. Finally, psychological safety is essential for employee retention. If employees feel like they are valued and appreciated, they are more likely to stay with a company for the long term.

    The Signs of a Toxic Workplace

    Workplace toxicity is a huge problem that can lead to a host of negative outcomes, including decreased productivity, high turnover rates, and legal complications. But what exactly is workplace toxicity? And what can be done to reduce it?

    Workplace toxicity can be defined as a situation in which employees feel unsafe or uncomfortable voicing their opinions or concerns.

    This can happen for a variety of reasons, including fear of retaliation, feeling like their opinions don’t matter, or feeling like they’re not part of the decision-making process. As anyone who has ever worked in a toxic environment can attest, the signs can be subtle at first. Maybe there’s a little more backstabbing than usual, or maybe people seem a little more stressed than usual. However, over time, the signs of a toxic workplace can become more pronounced. 

    1. One of the most obvious is a high turnover rate. If employees are regularly quitting or being fired, it’s a sign that something is wrong.
    2. Another sign is a general feeling of unease or anxiety among employees. If people seem on edge or unhappy, it could be a sign of a toxic environment.
    3. If there is a lot of gossiping or backstabbing going on, that’s another red flag.
    4. If management is excessively controlling or micromanaging, that can create a toxic atmosphere.
    5. A general feeling of disrespect among employees is also a sign that the workplace is toxic.

    If any of these signs are present, it’s important to take action to improve the situation. Otherwise, the toxicity will only continue to grow.

    Creating Psychological Safety at Work: 3 Keys to a Toxic-Free Workplace

    A toxic workplace can be a breeding ground for stress and anxiety. If you’re struggling to cope, it’s important to find healthy ways to manage the situation. The Toxic Workplace Survival Guide is a great resource that can help you figure out your next steps. The book offers different coping strategies, including how to plan your exit if you decide that it’s time to move on. It also provides tips on how to identify a toxic workplace and how to avoid getting caught in the cycle of stress and burnout. If you’re struggling to cope with a toxic workplace, this book is a must-read.

    How can Psychological Safety Help Reduce Toxicity?

    One way to help reduce workplace toxicity is to create a culture of psychological safety. Psychological safety is the belief that you will not be punished or ridiculed for speaking up with ideas, concerns, or suggestions. When employees feel like they can speak up without fear of retribution, they are more likely to do so. This, in turn, can help to reduce workplace toxicity.

    Learning to recognize how different leadership styles affect team productivity and feelings of safety will help you grow as a leader and improve your ability to motivate, empower and engage your team. As leaders, we sometimes use leadership approaches that are well-intentioned but that may not necessarily be interpreted by our teams as helpful. Understanding the core leadership approaches will help give you an advantage on implementing new ideas that are focused on creating a positive and healthy team environment.

    Tips for Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace

    As the world of work becomes increasingly complex, the need for psychological safety in the workplace has never been greater. Employees who feel safe speaking up and sharing their ideas are more likely to be engaged and productive. So how can employers create a psychologically safe workplace?

    Give Feedback

    It’s important to provide employees with opportunities to give feedback and be heard. This can be done through regular one-on-one meetings, pulse surveys, or open-ended questions on performance reviews.

    How do you give feedback in a way that creates psychological safety?

    One of the most important things to remember when giving feedback is to create a sense of psychological safety. This means that you need to reassure the person receiving your feedback that they are safe, respected, and valued.

    One way to do this is by focusing on their actions rather than their personality or character. For example, rather than saying something like “you’re really incompetent”, it can be more effective to say something like “I noticed that you made some mistakes in your work today, but I have confidence in your ability to learn from this and improve moving forward.”

    Creating Psychological Safety at Work: 3 Keys to a Toxic-Free Workplace

    By framing your feedback in this way, you show that you believe in the person’s intrinsic value as an individual, while still being direct about what needs improvement. Ultimately, creating psychological safety when giving feedback is all about striking a balance between honesty and empathy. If you can find that balance, both you and the person receiving your feedback will benefit from the process.

    It’s important to be clear, concise, and direct with your feedback. Avoid giving vague compliments or criticism. If you’re not sure how to give specific feedback, try using the “sandwich” technique: start with a positive comment, followed by constructive feedback, and end with another positive point.

    Encourage Risk-Taking

    Create an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks. Encourage employees to experiment and learn from their mistakes.

    There is no question that risk-taking is essential for innovation and progress. Whether it’s trying out new ideas, experimenting with new tools or techniques, or pushing into unexplored territories, taking risks is vital for any team seeking to achieve groundbreaking results. However, risk-taking can also be a daunting endeavor, one that can leave people feeling nervous and anxious about the possible repercussions.

    In order to encourage risk-taking in your team while creating a sense of psychological safety, it is important to promote an environment of openness and trust. This might mean communicating openly and honestly about mistakes and failures, encouraging people to ask questions without fear of judgment, or facilitating discussions around how different types of risk-taking affect both the individual and the team as a whole.

    With these strategies in place, your team will be able to explore new ideas and advance into uncharted territory with confidence and assurance, continuing to push the envelope in ways that lead to lasting positive change.

    Creating Psychological Safety at Work: 3 Keys to a Toxic-Free Workplace

    Model Desired Behavior

    As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” If you want to create a psychologically safe environment at work, it’s important to model the behavior you want to see in your employees. That means speaking up when you see something that isn’t right, offering constructive feedback, and being open to hearing what others have to say – even when it’s hard to hear.

    Of course, it’s not always easy to practice what you preach. But when you make the effort, it sends a strong message to those around you that you’re committed to creating a safe and supportive workplace. In turn, this can help to build trust and foster a more collaborative environment.

    So if you’re serious about promoting psychological safety at work, start by setting the example yourself. Creating an environment where everyone feels safe to contribute is essential for unlocking the full potential of your team.

    Creating Psychological Safety at Work: 3 Keys to a Toxic-Free Workplace

    The Benefits of a Toxic-Free Workplace

    A toxic workplace can have a devastating impact on both employees and employers. When employees feel unsafe or uncomfortable voicing their opinions or concerns, this can lead to a hostile work environment where people are afraid to speak up or take risks.

    So what are the benefits of creating a toxic-free workplace?

    For one, you’ll likely see an increase in employee engagement and productivity. Employees who feel safe speaking up are more engaged and productive. They’re also more likely to take risks and experiment with new ideas.

    Second, you’ll create a more positive work environment. A toxic workplace can be a breeding ground for stress and anxiety. But when employees feel respected and valued, they’re more likely to enjoy coming to work each day.

    Finally, you’ll attract and retain top talent. The best employees want to work in a safe and healthy environment. When you create a toxic-free workplace, you’ll be more likely to attract and retain the best talent.

    Creating Psychological Safety at Work: 3 Keys to a Toxic-Free Workplace

    Create Psychological Safety

    Creating a toxic-free workplace should be a top priority for any employer. The benefits are clear: higher employee engagement and productivity, a more positive work environment, and the ability to attract and retain top talent. If you’re not sure where to start, the article How Leaders and Managers Can Fix a Toxic Workplace can help you create a plan of action.

    Psychological safety is key to a healthy, productive, and positive workplace. By creating a safe place for employees to share their ideas and concerns, you can help reduce the number of toxic environments in the workplace. So make psychological safety a top priority in your organization, and reap the benefits in terms of increased engagement, productivity, and innovation.

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    Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

    About the Author

    Dr. Sara Baker is an advocate for positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees and leaders face every day.

    Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

    Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

    About the Author

    Dr. Sara Baker is an advocate for positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees and leaders face every day.

    Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

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