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Assessing Your Feelings of Psychological Safety at Work

When life gets busy, or we find ourselves experiencing unexpected difficulties, it may be challenging for us to recognize how our work is being affected. An organizational culture that promotes psychological safety will make it easier for individuals and their team leaders to navigate through these obstacles.

In our last article on psychological safety, we shared with you 3 tips for leaders to improve psychological safety within their teams. In this edition, we bring to you 3 questions that all team members can reflect on, to assess their current state of psychological safety in the workplace.

What am I responsible for? What is expected of me? How do I feel about them?

While our team leaders hold much of the responsibility when it comes to creating a culture that fosters psychological safety, regularly checking in with ourselves is equally as important. An ideal, psychologically safe work environment is one characterized by “interpersonal trust and mutual respect, in which people are comfortable being themselves”. A key component of this is knowing how you function within your team. What is expected of you? What are you responsible for? How do you feel about your responsibilities?

If you are feeling unclear or unhappy about the answers to any of these questions, those feelings of confusion or dissatisfaction are likely to seep into other areas of your work and can also impact the relationships you have with your fellow team members. Not knowing what you need to do, or what is expected of you, can cause discomfort and increased stress. After all, how can you do your job well, if you do not know what you need to do?

Asking yourself this three-part question can help you to gain insight into the aspects of your role that you like, dislike, or need clarity around, as well as help you to better understand your career goals and the suitability of this position for your long-term career path. It is also a good conversation starter. At any given point, you can ask yourself this and/or meet with your team leader, to gain clarity, assess progress, and build the role and the relationship with your team that will support you in doing your best work.

How do I feel, when asking for help or collaborating with other team members?
While asking for help or collaborating with other team members can be, at times, challenging, if and when everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities, it is generally much easier to work with one another. In a team that is built on a foundation of psychological safety, supporting and collaborating with one another tends to happen more organically. You can ask simple and hard questions, without fear of being judged. You can offer your own opinions or suggestions without fear of being shut down. And you can ask for help when you need it, without fear of being perceived as a burden or incompetent.

On the other hand, when there is a lack of clarity on an individual’s roles and responsibilities, as well as when there is a lack of interpersonal trust and mutual respect, you might experience ‘head butting’ with your colleagues, more often than not, as well as a sense of competition – rather than collaboration – within your own team.

What is a recent mistake that you made? How was it received by your team? What did you learn from it?

While no one likes to make mistakes, they are inevitable and are (or should be considered to be) opportunities for learning and improvement. When you realized you made the mistake, were you worried about admitting it? How was it received by your team? And what did you learn from it?

If the key takeaway from that experience is that another slip-up will cost you your job (of course, depending on the type of mistake that was made), then that is an indication that you do not feel safe in your role. Following that event, you will likely be more cautious, and while caution can be a good thing, it can also have a negative impact on your job and on your mental health, if it leads to you feeling constantly on edge, stressed, worried, or uneasy about performing your daily tasks.

But if you walked away from the experience with the knowledge that there is something that you can do differently or a skill you can improve on, and you were met by your team with support rather than harsh criticism, then the opposite may be true: you will feel more comfortable asking for help and receiving feedback from your team, less stressed about future tasks and their outcomes, and more willing to take on new roles and tasks that you might not have had much experience in before.

Team leaders want to create an environment that supports their team members in the best way possible, not just when they are at the top of their game so to say, but also when they are going through challenging times. And members of a team want to excel in an environment that values them, supports them, and challenges them to grow. These are all signs of a healthy workplace culture that prioritizes psychological safety.

If you find that you have been under more stress than normal, or perhaps less productive, consider asking yourself these questions as a launching point. And as mentioned above – it is important to remember that while team leaders are responsible for fostering psychological safety in the workplace, as employees and team members, we are responsible for checking in with ourselves, and that involves being honest and communicating our needs. If we do not share our experiences and concerns with our teams – including when we are experiencing challenges (either personally or professionally) – then it is impractical and unrealistic to expect that things will change, or that we will receive the support that we are looking for. Psychological safety is built on interpersonal trust and mutual respect and requires an open line of communication between all members of the team, and, ideally, the organization.