Psychological Safety at Work

September 21, 2023

Sometimes we just need a clue or tool as a starting point to solve a problem. Often, the issue we are dealing with is familiar; we just need a framework to get on the right path.

This blog is about a framework to improve your team’s psychological safety at work. Before describing the framework, let’s use the example of an office first aid kit.

Someone gets a minor injury at work and we hurry to the supply room to get the first aid kit. Most of us aren’t trained, but we can usually successfully address the small cut, bump, or other minor workplace injury. In the moment, success doesn’t mean the wound is healed or all the pain is gone; success means you paid attention, assessed the situation, responded with the right tools, and supported the employee’s next step.

Can we say we followed the same steps the last time we saw an employee in any sort of psychological distress? Many managers avoid these issues and hope they go away, but there is a better path.

We need a “psychological safety” first aid kit for the workplace. Search the internet for ‘psychological safety first aid kit’ and you get a lot of books about trauma and disasters. We aren’t therapists; we need something easy and appropriate for our role as managers.

Think about the short list below. Copy it, paste it in a recurring calendar item, and have it pop up as a reminder every 30 days or so. Give yourself a chance to keep these ideas top of mind. The next time you see a teammate in distress, expressing anxiety, or seeming like they’re off their game, choose to act and when you do, you’ll have a framework available only a few clicks away.

Framework for a Psychologically Safe Workplace

  1. Ask yourself, is your workplace psychologically safe? Be clear about what is meant by a psychologically safe workplace. In her Tedx talk, Brene Brown says: “Psychological safety allows people to be vulnerable, build meaningful relationships, and feel a sense of belonging, which is crucial for their personal and professional growth.” Hard to improve on that!
  2. Be on the lookout for burnout. Run down your list of employees. Do you detect any signs of burnout? If yes, be thoughtful in how you react. Do your homework before engaging. Burnout is a ‘catch-all’ label – so responses need to be tuned to the real issue. Of course, the workplace may be the issue and if so, engage with HR for suggestions.
  3. Engage in 1:1 conversations with your team. Do you know your teammate’s views about working on your team or for your firm? My blog from last year summarizes Marcus Buckingham’s book. The highlight is his 5-point list:
    1. Engage with your team every week
    2. Ask what went right last week
    3. What did they hate?
    4. What are their priorities for this week?
    5. How can you (their manager) help them?


Skeptical? This short post from The Predictive Index speaks to how increasing employee engagement can really move the needle on psychological health in the workplace.

  1. Listen authentically and recognize each person every chance you get. That’s a big part of our jobs as managers. Show appreciation for your teammates resilience in responding to the workplace or their personal challenges. As managers, we don’t always have to have an answer. Authentic listening goes a long way.


Here are a couple of additional resources:


Thanks for reading this post. As managers, we have the responsibility to help our teams. That means more than providing instructions and answering questions; it means engaging the person. We know that the person sitting across from us on a Zoom call or at a break table is more than just their work persona. Use some of the ideas listed above to see more of your teammate. Your team and teammates will thank you.

If you’re looking to help your managers on their journey to improving the psychological safety of your teams, drop Brian Sauerland or Heidi Lancaster a note. Our team at Elevation Talent Group has sourced some terrific HR professionals with expertise in improving the workplace.

Share Post