What is Psychological Safety?

March 31 2022

What is Psychological Safety?

Businesses need to create a psychologically safe workplace where employees have the confidence to ask questions, challenge the status quo, and perform their job responsibilities.

However, many team members don't feel comfortable speaking up. Employees may avoid suggesting creative ideas out of fear of rejection, stifling innovation. This is why establishing psychological safety in the workplace is imperative.

At Impact Fire, we value our diverse group of talented and passionate fire and life safety professionals and prioritize psychological safety to promote inclusivity and sustained employee engagement. As a result, we conducted a safety leadership event to help develop leadership skills and educate employees on the importance of psychological safety in the workplace.

Before discussing our safety leadership event, let’s define psychological safety and explain the importance of creating a psychologically safe workplace.

What is Psychological Safety for Employees?

The term “psychological safety” was first introduced in an influential research paper written by Dr. Amy Edmondson of Harvard University, in which she refers to psychological safety as:

“A shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking… [A] sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up. This confidence stems from mutual respect and trust among team members.”

But what exactly does “taking interpersonal risks” mean?

Interpersonal risk-taking is the act of confronting differences with others to lead to learning and innovation with the acknowledgment that every action and suggestion comes with a certain level of risk to an individual's social and professional standing within a team or organization.

Pro Tip

Pro Tip

Check out this short 3-minute video explaining interpersonal risk. Learn More →

When boiled down to its simplest definition, psychological safety is the belief that employees won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, or concerns. As a team member, it is a commitment to treat others charitably and respectfully. As an individual, it is understanding that the things you say and the actions you take won’t be used against you, as long as malicious intent is absent.

What are the Four Stages of Psychological Safety?

Here is an overview of the four stages of psychological safety. According to Dr. Timothy Clark, the creator of this framework, employees must progress through each stage to gain the comfort and confidence needed to speak up and make valuable contributions.

  1. Inclusion safety - At this stage, employees feel safe, accepted, and empowered to act and be who they are.
  2. Learner safety - Employees feel safe engaging in the learning process by asking questions, making mistakes, and receiving feedback.
  3. Contributor safety - Employees feel safe and are encouraged to use their skills and abilities to contribute positively.
  4. Challenger safety - Employees feel safe and have the confidence to challenge the status quo when there is an opportunity for improvement.

Why is Psychological Safety in the Workplace Important?

Teamwork performance is integral to the success of today’s fire and security companies. And a successful team understands psychological safety and mental health is just as important as physical safety and performance standards.

A Google study on team performance illustrated that the highest-performing teams had established psychological safety. Julia Rozovsky, a people analytics manager at Google, revealed, “there are five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google. . . . Psychological safety was far and away the most important.” Google’s report found that teams with higher psychological safety are:

  • Less likely to leave the company
  • More likely to bring in more revenue
  • More likely to harness the power of diverse ideas
  • More likely to be rated more effective by executives

Here are a few benefits that highlight the importance of establishing psychological safety in the workplace.

  • Creates brand ambassadors
  • Increases employee retention
  • Enhances employee engagement
  • Inspires creativity and ideas
  • Fosters a more inclusive workplace culture
  • Improves employee well-being and mental health

How Impact Fire Supports Employee Psychological Safety Development

Impact Fire conducted a safety leadership event designed to help develop leadership skills and educate employees on the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. These first sessions are part of an ongoing employee wellness initiative designed to embed psychological safety into our overall safety culture here at Impact Fire.

Kristen Cooper, Senior Director of Safety, Risk, Compliance, and Fleet at AI Fire, Impact Fire’s parent company, said this about the importance of psychological safety training.

“Training our employees on psychological safety at work is so important in that we want all employees to be able to show their true self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status, or career. Everyone is safe for interpersonal risk-taking, and this includes speaking up about their own mental health or unsafe work situations.”

At Impact Fire, we believe that every employee must become an effective safety leader to create a strong safety culture. An effective safety leader is someone who not only exhibits personal safety behaviors but inspires others to do the same. These are people who not only follow safety rules for themselves but who speak up out of care when they see others working in a way that could hurt themselves or others.

Our safety leadership event was designed to empower every employee, from field technicians to office managers, and encourage them to take on the responsibility of becoming an effective safety leader that embodies both psychological and physical safety.

Here is a brief overview of our event. 

Overview of Annual Safety Report - The event kicked off with a 15-minute overview of the annual safety report. Groups openly discussed district injuries and how the team learned from the incident. Safety committee representatives were tasked with asking their groups what feels different about safety in their district since a year ago. They facilitated discussions with compassion to make individuals feel genuinely cared for.

Leadership Training - The safety committee rep then led the group through leadership training activities following the safety report. The first activity included two safety videos, with one focused on psychological safety. Leadership training concluded with an open discussion on the five safety leadership skills. These included:

  • Leading by example
  • Engaging team members
  • Active listening
  • Developing team members through teaching, coaching, and feedback
  • Recognizing team members for a job well done

By incorporating engaging team-building activities, employees are encouraged to step away from their daily responsibilities, mix up their routines, and engage in something uniquely different.

Safety Leadership Self-Assessment - Safety committee reps shared a self-assessment designed to help employees track their leadership skill development. The self-assessment included creating an action plan that outlines specific steps to improve safety leadership further.

Related Resource

Related Resource

Want to measure your safety leadership skills? Fill out the self-assessment that Impact Fire used and create your own personal action plan. Learn More →

Safety Goal Setting - The event concluded by having each employee create measurable psychological and physical safety goals. They were then tasked with deciding on one overarching goal for improving district safety as a group. Some of the ideas generated through open discussion included:

  • Coaching each other on selected topics
  • Showing safety appreciation
  • PPE on at the start of each job
  • Specific safety behaviors around ladders

Supporting Employee Psychological Safety: A Long-Term Commitment

Employees feel safe and comfortable speaking about work-related issues in a psychologically safe workplace. Companies can innovate more quickly and better adapt to change - which is vital during the COVID-19 pandemic - when their employees feel comfortable sharing suggestions, asking for help, or generally challenging the status quo without the fear of negative social and career-related consequences.

We are proud of the success of our first psychological safety event and are excited to launch future initiatives to provide continued leadership support for our employees. Individuals interested in joining the Impact Fire team should get in touch with us to learn more about how they can begin their unique fire and life safety journey.

A special thanks to Kristen Cooper, Senior Director of Safety, Risk, Compliance, and Fleet at AI Fire, for helping us illustrate the importance of psychological safety. We wish you continued success in your inspiring fire and life safety career.

Authors

Impact Fire Team

Impact Fire Team

Impact Fire is a leading provider of fire protection and life safety services for both local and regional customers with a growing presence across the United States. Our team is made up of experienced fire and life safety professionals dedicated to developing long-standing relationships with local businesses, and providing superior service and fire protection expertise in the communities we serve. Today, the Impact Fire team works to maintain more than 20 districts across Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Utah, and Vermont.