Open communication encourages employees to talk about their feelings, struggles and feedback safely; which is after all what psychological safety stands for. In our previous blog, we discussed open and honest communication and how beneficial it is to create an environment where employees feel comfortable.

As a result, employees are able to perform better which in turn elevates business.  According to Amy C. Edmondson, who first coined the term “psychological safety”, teams who are psychologically safe can take reasonable risks, express their thoughts, be innovative and explore without fear of judgment or failure. Besides, based on the article “Psychological Safety: Building High-Performing Team” by Marian Evans published by Forbes, members in psychologically safe teams feel supported and valued and are free to be themselves without worrying about the impact on their job, identity, or position.

While promoting psychological safety can be a positive step for a company, it is crucial to ensure that it is implemented in an ethical and equitable manner. There’s a thin line between creating a psychologically safe work environment and potentially crossing that line into exploitation or manipulation of employees. It is essential to be aware of these potential negative consequences and to continuously re-evaluate the ways in which psychological safety is being promoted and maintained in the workplace.

Even when it’s needed more than ever, psychological safety is taken for granted when it is assumed that all employees would experience it similarly and the effects of factors like discrimination, power dynamics, and cultural differences are not taken into account. For instance, even though the majority of employees feel psychologically safe at work, those from underrepresented groups may still find it difficult to speak up or voice their opinions.

On the other hand, it is important to be aware that even when a workplace is considered psychologically safe, the freedom of expression and creativity can still be stifled. In some cases, employees may become so concerned about avoiding offense or criticism that they censor themselves, avoiding discussions or ideas that may be controversial or unpopular. This self-censorship can arise when employees feel that their words will be judged harshly, even in a psychologically safe environment, which can be the result of implicit biases or fear of negative consequences. 

In such scenarios, employers can accidently limit the potential benefits of psychological safety by creating an environment in which employees feel pressured to conform to certain expectations or norms. This can lead to a lack of diversity in ideas and perspectives, reducing the overall effectiveness of the workplace and potentially leading to negative costs for both employees and the organization as a whole. 

So, where’s that thin line? 

When there is a lack of trust, employees may occasionally feel the need to stay alert of the work environment and the dynamics because they don’t feel safe. Inappropriate behaviours might arise in a workplace without high standards for performance, discipline, and strong values

For instance, if you work in an unsafe and toxic environment, it’s only normal to be careful about what you say or do; and eventually you become highly cautious or even vigilant when it comes to communicating with your team and how you perceive their comments and jokes. 

It’s crucial to recognize that in safe but dysfunctional workgroups, it’s not psychological safety that is the issue, it’s the culture that is problematic. 

In order to reduce any confusion, we need to re-emphasize the importance of open and honest communication on both personal and organizational level: each employee must be conscious and empathetic while communicating and interacting with the team, whereas, a psychologically safe workplace should promote respect for one another and mutual trust and make sure that the employees feel comfortable expressing themselves freely and authentically. This requires a supportive work culture that encourages open and respectful dialogue, where different opinions and perspectives are valued, and where employees are free to express their thoughts without fear of retaliation.

A company that values trust and is psychologically safe will confront improper conduct when it results, whether by intention or by mistake, in a respectful and empathetic approach that tackles the issue, not the employee. 

With that being said, every company can thrive with a culture that is safe, respectful, inclusive and diverse.

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