How Does a Lack of Psychological Safety Impact Your Workplace?

by Oct 13, 2023

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve felt uncomfortable speaking up, asking for help, or even sharing our opinions. Unfortunately, this is all too common in today’s work culture, where people may not feel confident in their ability to express themselves without fear of retribution. 

The term “psychological safety” has been introduced in recent years to describe a work environment that cultivates trust, respect and open communication. But what happens when psychological safety is lacking in the workplace? 

We’ll explore what can happen when workplaces don’t prioritize psychological safety.

 

Decreased trust and collaboration

Research shows that building trust among people in organizations takes a considerable amount of time. Practically everything we do at work is a collaboration. Many people spent 85% or more of their time each week in collaborative work.

A lack of psychological safety can lead to employees feeling hesitant to collaborate with their coworkers. When these feelings of mistrust increase, team members may stop seeking out collaboration or sharing their ideas altogether. This can lead to silos and a lack of innovation within the organization.

 

Higher levels of stress and burnout

According to the World Health Organization, burnout happens when you’re really stressed at work and can’t handle it well. It has three main signs: feeling extremely tired, not liking your job, and not doing well at work.

When employees don’t feel psychologically safe, they may feel like they’re walking on eggshells around their colleagues. This can lead to an increase in stress and anxiety levels, which can ultimately lead to burnout. When people don’t feel like they can speak up to get the help they need or share their concerns with their colleagues, their mental health can suffer, which can ultimately affect their performance and productivity.

 

Decreased productivity and innovation

Businesses that don’t focus on coming up with new ideas are at risk of falling behind in their industry. They might miss out on chances to grow and be successful. When a company doesn’t innovate, it leads to less work getting done, fewer customers being interested, and eventually, making less money.

In order to drive innovation and creativity, employees need to feel safe enough to share their thoughts and ideas. Organizations that don’t prioritize psychological safety may miss out on critical feedback and suggestions for improving their products or services. When people don’t feel comfortable sharing their opinions or asking for help, it slows down progress and can lead to missed opportunities.

 

Higher rates of turnover

Having a lot of employees leaving your company is very expensive. We know that how much your employees care about their job has a big effect on this. According to Gallup, only 36% of workers in the United States are really into their work. If businesses want to keep their employees from leaving, they need to focus on keeping them interested and motivated.

Employees who are not interested in their work cost the U.S. a lot of money, around $450 billion to $550 billion every year. This is because they don’t work as well as the ones who are engaged, and they’re not really putting in their best effort.

When people don’t feel like they can be themselves at work, they may start to look for opportunities elsewhere. Without a culture of psychological safety, employees may feel undervalued, unheard, and ultimately, unappreciated. This can lead to higher turnover rates, which can be costly for organizations in terms of time, resources, and talent retention.

 

Decreased customer satisfaction

Finally, organizations that lack psychological safety may ultimately suffer in terms of customer satisfaction. Employees who don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas may not be able to provide the level of service or support that customers expect. This can lead to negative reviews, lower customer retention rates, and ultimately, a loss of business.

Happy employees contribute to happy customers. When employees are content, they’re more likely to help customers with a friendly attitude and top-notch service. This leads to a better customer experience, boosts customer loyalty, and ultimately increases profits.

 

It’s clear that psychological safety is a critical component of a healthy work environment. When people feel safe enough to be themselves, share their ideas, and collaborate freely, organizations can thrive. On the other hand, when psychological safety is lacking, it can lead to a range of negative outcomes, including decreased trust and collaboration, higher levels of stress and burnout, decreased productivity and innovation, higher rates of turnover, and decreased customer satisfaction. It’s up to leaders and organizations to prioritize psychological safety and create a culture where everyone feels valued, heard, and supported.

Civility is the platform for organizational success—it is absolutely necessary for an organization to reach its goals. Download our Ebook on Seeking Civility to learn more on how to create a workplace free of bullying and abusive conduct.

 

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

3 Savvy Ways to Spend Your Budget Surplus

It’s halfway through the year, and for some companies, the fiscal year is wrapping up, leaving them with an unexpected budget surplus.  While it might be tempting to funnel these extra funds into new equipment or throw after-hours parties, there's a more strategic...

Implicit Bias Training That Works

A significant barrier to achieving a diverse and inclusive workforce is implicit bias. Implicit bias occurs when, for instance, you hear the word "engineer" and immediately assume it is a man, or hear "teacher" and assume it is a woman. Have you ever been guilty of...

Over 50% of Workers Now Value Balance and Belonging Over Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Yesterday, I came across research by Randstad and it really got me thinking about how much the workplace landscape is changing. This study included insights from 27,000 workers worldwide and what really caught my attention was that nearly half of the respondents—47%,...

Your Culture Matters as Much as Your Legal Compliance

Legal compliance serves as the bedrock of any organization. While it lays the foundation, a positive workplace culture breathes life into your organization. A strong, supportive culture fosters employee engagement, boosts morale, and enhances productivity.  This...

How We Create Respectful Work Cultures

For the past 15 years, we have been dedicated to transforming toxic workplace cultures and fostering positive environments through executive coaching, corporate training, and large-scale culture change projects. We’ve serviced over 250 clients and their thousands of...

42% of employees would QUIT over political disagreements

Is it appropriate to restrict employees from expressing their political views at work? On the one hand, you want people to feel free to express themselves. But then, you don't want those water cooler chats to turn into full-blown political showdowns. According to a...

Why Retaining Top Talent is More Difficult Than Ever

Finding and keeping great employees can be tough for companies all over. With changes in employee expectations, advancements in technology, and shifts in the job market, it's a real challenge. In 2019, a whopping 42 million U.S. workers alone said "so long" to their...

Can Your Corporate Culture Influence Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence is a serious concern for organizations worldwide. While there are many reasons why it happens, one thing that doesn't get enough attention is the company culture itself. How people act and treat each other at work can make violence more or less...

How to Utilize Culture Surveys for Cultural Change

Surveys are a wonderful resource for measuring the success of culture change. Many clients approach us with the awareness of a cultural problem…but an inability to identify the cause. And that’s where we step in, often using survey scores as an identifier.  Let’s take...

Microaggressions Can Become Part of an Organization’s Culture. Here’s Why

We're talking a lot about making sure everyone feels included and respected in the workplace. But sometimes, it's not the big, obvious stuff that makes people feel excluded and disrespected - it's the little things. We have likely all experienced situations where...