Unlocking Workplace Trust: Addressing Psychological Safety Disparities Across Organizational Levels
November 4, 2023
New survey data from Wiley suggests workers are far less likely than their managers and senior-level executives to feel psychologically safe taking risks at work. The findings from the latest Wiley Workplace Intelligence report show a particularly wide gap between individual contributors and executives, which could lead to lower trust, engagement, and productivity in the workplace.
Psychological safety—a term first coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson—refers to an environment where individuals can freely express ideas, voice concerns, take risks, and admit mistakes without fear of repercussions. It’s recognized as a key factor in fostering healthy workplace environments.
According to Wiley’s latest research, only 53% of individual contributors said they feel safe taking risks at their organizations, compared to 64% of managers, 55% of supervisors, 71% of directors, and 76% of executives.
Nearly one-fifth of individual contributors didn’t feel safe taking risks, the highest of all respondents.
“Psychological safety has become increasingly important in recent years with the shift to hybrid and remote work,” said Dr. Mark Scullard, senior director of product innovation at Wiley. “To bridge the gaps in psychological safety that we’re seeing across organizational levels, companies can implement facilitated learning experiences to equip all employees with the skills for effective relationships, better communication, understanding, trust and teamwork. This intentional and inclusive approach helps foster greater psychological safety within the workplace that allows innovation to thrive.”
Other key findings from the report include:
- Blame Game: At least 40% of respondents in higher-level positions (supervisors, directors, and executives) indicated that their mistakes were held against them, possibly due to their increased visibility across the organization, compared to individual contributors (29%) and managers (35%).
- Comfort with Discomfort: A majority of middle management respondents said they largely feel able to raise problems and tough issues at work, while individual contributors and executives both felt less comfortable bringing up such issues.
- Undermining Concerns: Supervisors were the least of all respondents to agree that no one on their teams would deliberately undermine their work (68%).
- Higher Psychological Safety in Senior Roles: Executives reported having the highest levels of psychological safety at work, with 93% feeling mostly or completely psychologically safe. Individual contributors and managers reported lower levels of psychological safety at 86% each, and felt less safe speaking up and less valued for their contributions.
- Leadership Matters: When employees were asked what qualities they seek in a leader, ‘Communicates effectively’ topped the list with 33% of respondents ranking it first. ‘Creates a safe place for sharing different perspectives’ came in second with 16%.
Acknowledging and valuing your team members for their contributions, irrespective of their position, and not solely through promotions or financial rewards, will significantly enhance their overall worth. Being appreciated at the workplace strongly correlates with fostering a sense of belonging and increased productivity. Dedication towards understanding how your team prefers to receive recognition and actively responding to it showcases strong leadership and promotes a healthy organizational culture that promotes psychological safety.
Source: HR Dive; EverythingDisc.com
By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM-approved partner, ASE.