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Creating Psychologically Safe Workplaces

BY: Dr. Patricia Grabarek & Dr. Katrina Sawyer • Co-Founders // Workr Beeing

Psychological safety, or the “shared belief that a team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking”1 has been linked to many positive outcomes at work. For example, psychological safety increases job satisfaction and commitment to organizations. It also enhances engagement, increases helping behavior, and improves work performance. Overall, psychological safety is a key mechanism that predicts plenty of positive outcomes for employees and organizations. So, what does psychological safety entail?

Making Mistakes Without Fear

The first component of psychological safety is whether or not team members can make a mistake without fearing they will be harshly punished or terminated. On teams where employees feel they can make mistakes, they are more likely to devise and try new ideas. Yet, when employees feel that being imperfect is a surefire way to lose their jobs, they stay silent and preserve the status quo. This doesn’t mean that employees should be able to repeat the same mistakes without repercussions. But, they shouldn’t fear that a small error will result in a sizeable consequence.

Being Able to Raise Tough Issues

Another key component of psychological safety is being able to bring up a challenging issue without retribution. For example, if something is going wrong within the team or an error that was previously overlooked, team members need to be able to safely raise their concerns. If the team is full of ‘yes’ people, problems will be overlooked and snowball down the line.

Valuing Uniqueness

Psychologically safe teams are those in which people can be themselves and are valued for what makes them different from others on the team. Instead of ensuring that everyone thinks and behaves the same way, psychologically safe teams emphasize the importance of bringing many different skill sets and personalities together.

Cultivating Collaboration

Finally, psychologically safe work environments are those in which employees can freely ask one another for help. When employees know that they can turn to one another in times of need, they are much more likely to find ways to synergize their efforts and come to shared solutions. If everyone is siloed, or worse — in competition with one another — the team is no longer a “safe” place to share ideas or help others get ahead. Further, when organizations are psychologically safe, people don’t undermine one another’s efforts. They understand that everyone is working toward the same goal and that a “win” for one is a “win” for everyone. Psychologically safe teams are characterized by supportive climates where employees boost each other up instead of tearing each other down.

How do you think your organization fares? If you’re doing well in some areas and not in others, this might be a good time to take stock of areas for improvement and to take action to make progress toward greater psychological safety. For the areas you’re already doing well in, try sharing what you’re doing to cultivate psychological safety with others!

1 Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative
Science Quarterly, 44, 350-383.

Creating Psychologically Safe Work Environments

Creating Psychologically Safe Work Environments

In order for workplaces to thrive, employees have to feel safe, supported, and able to speak up within their work environment. Yet, many workplaces create cultures of fear and disconnection. Learn how to drive psychological safety, and avoid the dangers of distrust, in this webinar.


Dr. Patricia Grabarek
Dr. Patricia Grabarek // Co-Founder • Workr Beeing
In addition to co-founding Workr Beeing, Patricia has spent her career leading behavioral science teams and consulting with over sixty different client organizations from various industries, implementing Industrial/Organizational Psychology solutions to improve wellness, retention, performance, and engagement within their organizations. Her areas of expertise include workplace wellness, employee engagement, emotional labor, assessment, person-organization fit, behavioral nudges, and competency modeling. She has also served as an adjunct professor, teaching leadership and organizational psychology courses at Penn State University and the University of Southern California.
Dr. Katina Sawyer
Dr. Katina Sawyer // Co-Founder • Workr Beeing
Workr Beeing co-founder, Katina, is an Assistant Professor of Management at The George Washington University in the School of Business. Her areas of expertise include diversity, work-life balance, leadership, and negative workplace behaviors. Over the years, Katina has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Her work has been cited in many public outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Bloomberg Business Week, The Atlantic, Forbes, and The Conversation. She has been awarded research grants from the National Science Foundation, as well as from the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2017, Katina received recognition as Top 40 under 40 from the Philadelphia Business Journal. She also has extensive experience consulting with various organizations providing data-driven solutions.