Creating psychological safety in the workplace requires deliberate and consistent effort. Psychological safety is present when employees feel that it’s not just OK for them to be their full selves at work — but desirable. It means that employees feel safe to express their opinions, thoughts and ideas without the fear of mistakes jeopardizing their position or job. It also means employees feel safe to take reasonably calculated risks.

Why Does Psychological Safety Matter in the Workplace, and How Does It Improve DEI?

Many companies work to improve their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training in hiring and promotion practices, erroneously assuming this will create a space for more diverse thinking. However, it’s not automatic.

As more companies embrace remote and hybrid work, it’s becoming even more important for leaders and training departments to focus on creating psychological safety in the workplace. The hybrid work model can exacerbate challenges that were easier to overcome when working together in face-to-face settings.

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, only three in 10 employees report that they experience psychological safety in the workplace. And now, more than ever, as companies embrace hybrid work, teams are becoming more diverse in:

  • Geographic location.
  • Race.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Gender identity.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Background.
  • Family status.

Diverse teams with high levels of psychological safety are more likely to:

  • Be more innovative. They’re more likely to think outside the box, ask deeper questions and take calculated risks.
  • Be more productive. Psychological safety drives communication, collaboration and teamwork, further improving productivity in the workplace.
  • Reduce turnover as there is better engagement, trust and confidence amongst employees.
  • Safely and constructively disagree and find creative ways to find solutions.

What Are the Roadblocks When Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace?

As leaders and learning and development (L&D) teams work to create psychological safety in the workplace, there are several roadblocks that can get in the way.

First, some leaders and employees may use public ridicule and embarrassment to bully team members and build themselves up. This toxic behavior creates two problems: one, an environment where the loudest voice in the room is the only one that’s heard, and two, those from less privileged backgrounds are more hesitant to speak up. Both results create a dearth of creativity and innovation. Leaders need to remember to reprimand and correct privately and praise publicly.

Second, some employees might worry about being demoted or fired if they speak up or make a mistake.

Additionally, when organizations foster or allow negative gossip and intimidation to seep into the culture, employees lose the ability to feel psychologically safe.

How Can eLearning Help Create Psychological Safety in the Workplace?

L&D teams can build psychological safety into their eLearning platforms, paying attention to the following considerations:

  • Provide opportunities to apply, make mistakes and receive feedback on principles included in the learning.
  • Admit that the challenge exists when working in a diverse workplace and then continuing the conversation on how to overcome those challenges.
  • Encourage curiosity by offering opportunities to employees to ask questions and collaboratively resolve concerns.
  • Create spaces for employees to gather without worrying about work issues, build relationships of trust and come to shared understandings. For example, some companies have implemented the concept of virtual fika sessions. Fika is a Swedish concept where employees gather for a few minutes to socialize and get to know each other over a beverage and snack.

What eLearning Strategies Can Help Create Psychological Safety in the Workplace?

The following eLearning strategies can be employed to create psychological safety in the workplace:

  1. Scenario based learning — Drawing on scenarios derived from current employees creates a space where employees can feel psychological safety in the workplace. They can identify with certain scenarios and see how other employees have dealt with similar situations.
  2. Gamification is an effective way to motivate and engage learners and build camaraderie through friendly competition.
  3. Branching simulations can add to the complexity of scenario and gamified team learning solutions. These can be rich learning environments where teams can safely fail, start again and test different decisions.
  4. Video-based and interactive video learning as part of gamified learning can help create psychological safety in the workplace by increasing the engagement of participants, drawing them into DEI trainings in a low-stakes environment.
  5. Microlearning can be used to frequently engage employees before, during and after normal workday tasks, keeping DEI trainings at the forefront of employees’ minds.

Parting Thoughts

While it’s clear that DEI is vital to high-performing organizations, L&D teams can create opportunities for companies to create psychological safety in the workplace by leveraging the advantages that eLearning programs provide. Companies and individual teams must engage with their L&D departments to actively incorporate effective practices to proactively create psychological safety in the workplace and ­corporate culture.

Learn how to leverage the eLearning Trends in 2022 and design high-impact L&D programs for the hybrid workforce. Download our eBook, eLearning Trends in 2022 – A Guide for Designing High-Impact L&D Programs for the Hybrid Workforce.

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