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LinkedIn VP of product says that we need to talk about psychological safety at work

Companies who want to attract the best talent need to prioritize building an inclusive culture.

LinkedIn VP of product says that we need to talk about psychological safety at work
[Photo: rawpixel.com/Pexels]

It’s hard for many people to show vulnerability–especially at work. It’s even more difficult for people to engage in conversations around psychological safety.

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Psychological safety is the belief that a team member can take risks without fear of embarrassment or ridicule, and companies aren’t doing enough to promote that. Occupational pressures and concerns are, by far, the leading source of stress for American adults. According to a recent survey by LinkedIn, 50% of workers today report feeling stressed in their jobs.

Helping employees feel psychologically safe impacts productivity, engagement, creativity, and presenteeism. (It’s also the right thing to do.) If companies want to attract and retain the best talent, its leaders must make a concerted effort to build workplace cultures that help people bring their full selves to work. Here’s why that’s crucial to the company’s success.

Psychological safety can boost productivity

It’s no surprise that worry and anxiety often hamper workplace success and stifle growth, creativity, and productivity. This is a particularly acute challenge at a time when creativity is the No. 1 skill in demand. After all, you need creativity to innovate, and if businesses don’t innovate today, they run the risk of becoming stagnant.

An environment of psychological safety frees employees to think creatively, take risks, and share what’s on their minds. For leaders, this means leading by example, admitting mistakes, celebrating vulnerability, and practicing deep respect. While leadership has a critical role in setting the standard for culture and values, you’ll see this most prominently at the team level. Direct managers who encourage open and transparent conversations have more highly engaged and productive teams. I run an employee engagement platform, Glint, and we recently analyzed data from more than half a million employees. Organizations with engaged employees saw positive results with their stock value and tend to have higher market capitalization than those with less engaged employees.

A safe space and inclusive culture go hand-in-hand

Humans have a universal need for inclusion and social acceptance, and it’s in companies’ interest to make sure that their organization meets those needs. Our own data has also identified belonging, a critical measure of inclusion, as one of the top drivers of engagement globally. If companies want good employees, they need to embed this attitude in their company culture. That starts with making employee well-being as a priority and a regular agenda item.

Build a safer space to be authentic by coordinating external team events that help coworkers have fun and engage in playful, non-work related activities. Laughing breaks down barriers and creates relationships. Healthy relationships lead to trust, which is at the heart of workplace psychological safety. It helps employees feel confident that their thoughts, questions, ideas, and anxieties will be heard and not dismissed.

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Employees are more likely to be disengaged if they feel like they don’t have a voice

When a company culture is inclusive of all people, businesses will see more meaningful engagement from their workforce. Acknowledging and praising individual strengths and finding opportunities to optimize employees’ potential isn’t just about making employees feel good. It’s about creating an environment where everyone can flourish, which results in a more productive workforce that benefits the bottom line.

According to our research, employees who think their managers don’t take their feedback seriously are more likely to be disengaged. When managers don’t act on employees’ feedback, it sends the message that the employee’s voice doesn’t matter. When an employee doesn’t feel like they matter, they’re less likely to put forward their best efforts.

Culture is imperative to a company’s success. In a strong labor market, employers need to prioritize building an inclusive culture if they want to attract and retain the top talent. That starts with cultivating a strong sense of psychological safety. When psychological safety is rooted in a company’s culture, it becomes easier to ensure that it exists across the organization. As a result, employees are likely to be more engaged, productive, and more comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.


Jim Barnett is the founder and head of Glint and VP of product at LinkedIn.

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