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Why It Is Critical to Prioritize Psychological Safety at Work and in the Hiring Process

Picture a nurse in urgent care. A patient complains to them and the attending doctor about ear pain. The doctor quickly scribbles penicillin (an antibiotic commonly used to treat infections) on the prescription pad and exits to visit another patient. About 15 minutes after the patient leaves, the nurse suddenly remembers that a patient had mentioned a mild penicillin allergy to them that day. Was it the patient they had just seen?

While you may think the obvious action is to double-check with the doctor, this may not always be the case. What if the nurse had seen this doctor berate a colleague for questioning him the other day? The nurse is likely not keen on approaching this doctor about any doubts. So — what determines whether they ultimately speak up?

The deciding factor in this situation may be their feeling of psychological safety at work.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is defined as the security to express opinions, thoughts, or future actions without the fear of humiliation or retaliation. It is both a feeling and an unspoken agreement between you and your colleagues. In a psychologically safe workplace, people are not burdened with interpersonal fear.

Had the urgent care nurse felt psychologically safe at work, they would have felt secure enough to express a dissenting opinion to their superior. Instead, the nurse stayed silent.

How does psychological safety create a better work environment?

Employees in psychologically safe work environments are more likely to express their opinions, ask “dumb” questions, and debate with their colleagues. Prior research on these actions all points to one result: more enjoyable and productive workplaces.

Importantly, psychological safety at work does not mean that organizations must compromise their standards. Psychological safety researcher Amy Edmondson suggests that workplaces with both high levels of psychological safety and high standards set the foundation for happy high performers.

Researchers at Google reported this exact finding when they internally investigated what made good teams, good. When wondering what makes a successful team at a tech giant, it may be fruitful to explore data like – post-work team socialization habits, hobbies, or shared academic backgrounds. Of course, these are exactly the kinds of questions the research team leading Project Aristotle (the name given to this operation) first investigated.

Unfortunately, these (and many other ideas) did not pan out. The team was at a loss until they learned about psychological safety at work. Suddenly, everything made sense. The concept was so explanatory that they made it the number one predictor of a successful team within the tech giant.

How can prioritizing soft skills in the hiring process facilitate psychological safety?

Of course, psychological safety at work is not something we just wish into our workplaces. It is an environment that is created by people in the workplace. How can you find these people? Prioritize the soft skills that facilitate workplace candor at all levels of the organization.

Cangrade’s solutions help employers identify candidates with the soft skills profile that will contribute to a workplace high in psychological safety. Give us a try today.