returning to the office? plan for psychological safety


Protecting and promoting psychological safety in the workplace is arguably as important for employee health and wellbeing as hand sanitiser and physical distancing measures.

As Australian business leaders and HR professionals manage the breadth of physical safety measures required when planning the return to offices, psychological and emotional safety measures need to be prioritised.

What is psychological safety at work?

Psychological safety at work is about creating an environment that supports employees to take interpersonal risks and believe they won’t be criticised if they speak up or make a mistake. This is often demonstrated in open communication and supportive behaviours that convey emotional awareness and connection amongst teams.

Why does psychological safety matter?

Psychological safety contributes to individual and organisational performance. Following a massive two-year study into team performance Google found their highest-performing teams have one top thing in common: psychological safety.

In uncertain and complex times, psychological safety is vital to avoid workplace anxiety which can be incredibly damaging to business performance. The fear of making a decision or making a mistake prevents progress and engagement.

Aside from the performance benefits gained from creating a psychologically safe workplace, there are financial gains to be made too. Increasing mental ill-health at work is estimated to cost Australian corporations $13 billion a year in lost wages and productivity, outlined in the recent Productivity Commission mental health report.

Preventative and positive workplace wellbeing measures help to avoid these losses while also making gains across the board.

How do you create a psychologically safe workplace?

Not everyone will feel the same way about the return to the office, that’s why it’s important to take an individualised approach.

It’s natural for employees to withhold questions and concerns in an effort to manage their impression on others, as pointed out by Amy Edmonson in her TedX talk on building psychologically safe workplaces. Therefore, how you measure psychological safety and employee engagement needs to feel safe too.

The ability to feel comfortable in asking questions, making mistakes, sharing feelings and taking risks requires intentional and ongoing investment in improving organisational culture. There are a range of immediate and longer-term initiatives you can implement.

There is a growing body of research and a number of useful resources available to identify and manage psychological risks and create a safer workplace.

You need practical solutions that work

To build psychological safety, you need a toolkit of practical strategies that you can use in different scenarios to address your wide range of employee needs.

You may like to consider these 5 pointers that contribute to creating a psychologically safe workplace:

  1. Measurement: Benchmarking your current psychological safety levels helps you to know where to start and to monitor the ongoing impact of your actions
  2. Strengths: Help your leaders to build understanding of their team members’ strengths and characteristics and how to maximise those
  3. Curiosity: Encourage open communication, supportive behaviours and connection within your teams (both virtually and in person when in the office)
  4. Positivity: Cultivate optimism and hope – positive emotions help to open up possibilities and innovative thinking
  5. Stress: Understanding stress responses can be helpful to turning this into a positive emotion that enhances performance

The Oranges Toolkit can help

As specialists in the fields of wellbeing, resilience and agility, we offer evidence-based and measurable change-management programs tailored to your business needs. The Oranges Toolkit is a Camp Quality social enterprise, so when you choose to work with us, you’re also choosing to support kids facing cancer in Australia.

If you’d like a free consultation regarding how we can support your organisation, call us on 1300 857 425.

download the oranges toolkit program guide

For a detailed overview of our resilience and wellbeing training solutions to build a psychologically safe workplace, download our program guide. When you complete this form, the file will immediately download and we may contact you to have a conversation about your interest in The Oranges Toolkit.

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