Bonus Post! Psychological Safety and Employee Recognition
In the last two posts, we looked at the benefits of incentivizing your safety program. In this post, we’ll look at how a recognition program can make your workplace safer, and this is by creating what professor Amy Edmonson at the Harvard Business School dubbed psychological safety.
Psychological safety is the ability to express oneself without fear of negative consequence. It’s a property of groups, and to develop it, team members must practice understanding and build trust. A study at Google called Project Aristotle concluded that how a team works matters more than who is on that team. If you want your employees to do their best work, then you should look at how they mesh at the group level. In a safe environment, people feel comfortable sharing new ideas, admitting mistakes, and asking questions. This is a key feature of any healthy workplace, and it can be fostered through a culture of recognition. First, we’ll talk about why psychological safety is important, then we’ll look at how a recognition program can help create it.
There are many benefits to having a psychologically safe workplace. First, in a safe environment, people feel that their contributions are being welcomed and valued, and this is good for engagement. Employees become personally invested in their work when they can see their ideas put into practice, and for this to happen, managers need to hear what their colleagues have to say. Second, it allows more voices to enter the conversation, and diversity of perspective leads to innovation, creativity, and skill-sharing. Third, when team-members can raise concerns without fear of negative consequence, the team can navigate risk and make better, more careful decisions. Finally, when people are free to make mistakes, they can build resilience, learn how to deal with the unexpected, and gain new and valuable work experience.
How do recognition programs create psychological safety? Recognition breaks down barriers between colleagues by building trust and rapport. Although informal recognition works, the added benefits of formal program should not be understated. A formal program builds recognition into the everyday culture of an organization. This encourages loyalty, creates a sense of workplace community, and strengthens interpersonal relationships. Let’s see how this works. Managers often struggle to give impromptu recognition, but formal programs help them to express sincere gratitude in a consistent and predictable way. Presentation ceremonies, for example, give managers a comfortable space in which they can express appreciation for their employees’ hard work. A good program works like a guidebook. It helps managers figure out what they want to say, and it gives them the resources to offer meaningful tokens of appreciation. Creating a culture of recognition helps managers focus on their colleagues’ successes instead of their failures. The result is a more open environment that prioritizes rewarding achievement over punishing mistakes. This makes the workplace safer and more efficient. Employees need to feel comfortable admitting their mistakes so that those mistakes can be fixed, and so that we can make sure they don’t happen again in the future.
Incentive programs help create the culture of mutual respect and trust that constitutes a psychologically safe environment. They encourage meaningful interactions between colleagues, and this fosters openness, appreciation, and productive dialogue. Because these programs reward accomplishment, they make people feel seen and valued. This motivates people to think creatively and to be forthcoming about mistakes and concerns. By creating an open and trusting environment, incentive programs can make a workplace safer, more innovative, and more productive.
Edmondson, A., Boyatzis, B., and Schaninger, B. (2020) ‘Psychological Safety, Emotional Intelligence, and Leadership in a Time of Flux’, Interviewed by Aaron De Smet, McKinsey & Company. Available at: Psychological-safety leadership in a time of flux | McKinsey
Forbes (no date) ’20 Leaders Share Lessons Learned by Embracing the Value of Failure’, Forbes. 20 Leaders Share Lessons Learned By Embracing The Value Of Failure (forbes.com)
Gallo, A. (2023) ‘What is Psychological Safety?’, Harvard Business Review. Available at: What Is Psychological Safety? (hbr.org)
Gibson, K.R., O’Leary, K., Weintraub, J.R. (2020) ‘The Little Things that Make Employees Feel Appreciated’, Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2020/01/the-little-things-that-make-employees-feel-appreciated
Gube, M. and Hennelly, D. S. (2022) ‘Resilient Organizations Make Psychological Safety a Strategic Priority’, Harvard Business Review. Available at: Resilient Organizations Make Psychological Safety a Strategic Priority (hbr.org)
Herway, J. (2017) ‘How to Create a Culture of Psychological Safety’, Gallup. Available at: How to Create a Culture of Psychological Safety (gallup.com)
re:Work with Google (no date) Guide: Understand Team Effectiveness. Available at: re:Work (rework.withgoogle.com)
Ravishankar, R. A. (2022) ‘A Guide to Building Psychological Safety on Your Team’, Harvard Business Review. Available at: A Guide to Building Psychological Safety on Your Team (hbr.org)