Rethink Mental Health

Fostering Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Aug 3, 2022

By Delvina Miremadi-Baldino, Ph.D., Ed.M., CAPP

The magnitude of uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the current political, economic, and cultural instability, has left most organizations in survival mode. Traditional operating models and approaches are no longer effective in addressing the challenges of the workplace, leaving leaders with more questions than answers.

Why are employees struggling with unprecedented stress and burnout, and how do we navigate through this new emotional landscape at work? What can we do to retain our highest performers and increase engagement across the organization? How do we address rapidly changing customer behavior, public policy, and employee needs?

The emotional distress and extreme uncertainty created by this global pandemic have, over time, impacted employees’ wellbeing, leading us to a full-blown employee mental health crisis. It’s time we go back to the drawing board and look at the very foundation of how organizations operate—and most importantly, examine how we can support our employees and their needs.

What is psychological safety?

Safety is one of the five essential needs, according to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, that motivates us as humans. Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson coined the term “psychological safety” and defines it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”[1] Basically, when teams have psychological safety, the members believe that they can speak up, voice concerns, or experience failure without risk of punishment or humiliation.

Why does psychological safety matter?

According to research, psychological safety is the most important factor in building effective teams. More specifically, when team members feel safe to speak up and take risks, the teams experience greater innovation, creativity, learning, and growth.[2] Team members who feel psychologically safe at work are less likely to leave.[3] And building a psychologically safe workplace is one of the best ways to support employee mental health because when they feel safe to speak up, they seek help early and prevent more serious health conditions.[4]

How can leaders foster psychological safety?

Given the many ways psychological safety in an organization impacts engagement, productivity, performance, and retention, it’s imperative that leaders prioritize strategies that build a culture of psychological safety.

Here are four simple things leaders can do to foster psychological safety:

1. Encourage a growth mindset.

According to Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck, success comes when an organization puts more value on effort than outcomes.[5] Dweck suggests that this embodiment of what she calls a “growth mindset” is based on the belief that everyone can grow and learn through effort, learning, and the right support. In an organization, a team with a growth mindset will foster psychological safety by seeing setbacks as useful, persisting through adversity, maintaining strong and stable confidence, being inspired by others’ success, and learning from mistakes. And because failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow, they will dive headfirst into the transition and set new, higher goals. A growth mindset not only provides positive gains to the team and organization, but Dweck’s research has found that employees in growth mindset workplaces are 47 percent likelier to say that their colleagues are trustworthy and 34 percent likelier to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company.[6]

2. Teach active listening; encourage curiosity.

Active listening is a practice in which you concentrate intently on what is being said rather than passively hearing it and is a critical component of building a psychologically safe environment. Unlike how we typically listen—distracted, caught up in our thoughts, or planning what we will say in response—active listening is about making a conscious decision to listen carefully, without judgment, with the goal of understanding what the other person is trying to convey while also making them feel heard. Research supports the concept that active listening creates an environment where employees feel safe voicing their opinions, are more likely to share ideas, have greater trust, develop happier relationships, and are ultimately more productive.[7],[8],[9]

3. Be inclusive; encourage diversity of thought.

Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are and will continue to be a top priority for organizations. And according to new research from the Gartner Inclusion Index, psychological safety is one of the seven key dimensions of inclusion, along with fair treatment, integrating differences, decision-making, trust, belonging, and diversity.[10] DEI efforts go far beyond numbers and representation. True advancement of DEI means a work environment where all people feel valued and supported, have a sense of belonging, and feel safe to speak up and challenge the status quo without fear of negative consequences.

4. Support employees’ mental health by providing evidence-based tools and resources.

Addressing mental health in the workplace is now a necessity in organizations across the globe. Since March 2020, the prevalence of anxiety and depression has more than doubled in many countries. [11] In the U.S. specifically, nearly one in five adults live with a mental illness (52.9 million in 2020). [12] Despite progress in many organizations in recent years to talk about mental illness and decrease stigma, they still struggle to address the high demand for care and support. A good starting point lies in the connection between psychological safety and mental health. When individuals don’t feel psychologically safe to share their thoughts and experiences, they are more likely to suffer in silence when they are struggling with a mental health concern and go untreated. By promoting mental health through regular conversations and clear action steps to support their needs, you will encourage more awareness, dialogue, and help-seeking behaviors.

We Offer Solutions

Leaders across the globe are being called to rethink their approach to employee mental health and wellbeing and develop a model that delivers preventative, proactive resources and care. Many organizations have responded with efforts to enhance mental health benefits, such as with apps or free counseling services. This helps, but it isn’t as effective if employees don’t feel safe speaking up when they are suffering. Building a culture that breaks the stigma associated with mental health and provides relief through increased access and resources is the most comprehensive solution.

CredibleMind is the one-stop shop for mental health and wellbeing supporting self-care, triage, and engagement. Our platform offers thousands of evidence-based resources informed by our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can help your employees flourish.

[1] Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350–383.

[2] Edmondson, A. C. (2018). The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Wiley.

[3] The Predictive Index. (2021). 2021 People Management Report.

[4] Klinefelter, Z., Sinclair, R. R., Britt, T. W., Sawhney, G., Black, K. J., & Munc, A. (2021). Psychosocial safety climate and stigma: Reporting stress-related concerns at work. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 37(3), 488–503.

[5] Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House.

[6] HBR Editors. (2014, November). How Companies Can Profit from a “Growth Mindset. Harvard Business Review.

[7] Raab, D. (2017, August 9). Deep Listening in Personal Relationships. Psychology Today.

[8] Grogan, J. (2013, March 11). It’s not enough to listen. Psychology Today.

[9] Nemec, P. B., Spagnolo, A. C., & Soydan, A. S. (2017). Can you hear me now? Teaching listening skills. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 40(4), 415–417.

[10], Romansky, L., Garrod, M., Brown, K., & Deo, K. (2021, May 27). How to Measure Inclusion in the Workplace. Harvard Business Review.

[11] OECD. (2021). “Tackling the mental health impact of the COVID-19 crisis: An integrated, whole-of-society response”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), OECD Publishing, Paris,

[12] National Institute of Mental Health. (2022, January). Mental Illness.


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