Safety At Work

Before you switch off this is not about whether your screen is at the right height or cables are trailing across your office floor. It is about how employees feeling psychologically safe at work makes a difference to their contribution.

Let me give you a practical example from my book.

In the 1930s, construction began on building the Golden Gate Bridge across San Francisco Bay, the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time. It cost $35 million. The rule of thumb in 1930s America was that one construction worker would lose their life for every million dollars of construction cost. Joseph Strauss, the chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge project was determined to increase safety standards on this project. He put forward a plan to put a safety net across that would stop construction workers falling into the Bay as they put the roadway and central cables up. The extra cost – $130,000.

Joseph got his way – the net was installed; lives were saved, and I understand the bridge was completed ahead of schedule and therefore came in on budget. Analysis done at the time would suggest that construction workers worked faster on the bridge because they knew the safety net was there should they fall.

The big take away from this story is that performance and the speed with which things are done is directly affected by a person’s perception of safety.

Last week I showed you that the “X” Factor in high performing teams is the presence of psychological safety. In other words it is not as much about who is on the team as it is about how those team members work together.

Psychological safety occurs in a team when you, as the leader, create an environment where people in your organisation or team are included, feel safe to bring their opinion, and can challenge the status quo without the fear of being talked over, punished, humiliated, or blamed.

Amy Edmonsdon put it this way:

“Psychological safety describes a belief that neither the formal nor informal consequences of interpersonal risks, like asking for help or admitting failure, will be punitive.”

If you lead a team or an organisation you need to be aware that the generation entering the workplace now will not stay if they perceive the leader or culture to be toxic. Couple this with the fact that we now live in a fast moving world and need to be as agile and adaptable as possible you can see how vital your culture is for the team to meet these challenges. So ask yourself, what culture do you have now and what would you improve if you could?

What is the cost to the team when people are not free to speak up, contribute, or share ideas, because they perceive their contribution is not valuable or worse will be shouted down or ignored?

The costs can be measured in low trust, so decisions take longer. Innovation and creativity is stifled. In short, the potential of the team is muted when behaviour is created or tolerated which prevents anyone bringing their best contribution.

Three Things you can do to Increase Safety at Work

1. Leader Goes First – In terms of setting an environment that builds psychological safety, as leader you have to be the creator and guardian of its implementation and maintenance. The decision to embrace psychological safety will come down to the your view on how it affects the people you lead.

2. Active Listening – Psychological safety means that people believe they are free to speak up and make the contribution they have. Some voices on your team will have no problem in speaking up. Your skill as a leader is to invite all to contribute, sometimes that means reigning in the louder voices on the team whilst making space for more reflective voices to be heard.

3. Permission to Fail – To engender innovation, creativity and create an atmosphere where taking risks is celebrated then team members will need to know that they have freedom to fail. How you react to such failures will impact how much risk team members are willing to take.

This article is just scraping the surface of how to create a safe work environment. To find out how to get the best from your team or organisation book an exploratory call with me here.

Photo by Sarah Ardin on Unsplash

Mark Billage

Mark Billage

Mark’s passion is to help realise individuals’ potential, be they leaders or team members, through empowering organisational culture. He has spent 7 years leading an organisation based in the non profit sector. In that time, he focused on creating a culture that enabled and empowered individuals, with the aim of seeing a high performing team better able to achieve the organisation’s mission.

Our Vision

To train and equip leaders to transform culture, build successful teams and organisations where everyone is seen, heard and valued for their unique contribution.

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