When it comes to the topic of safety at work, most businesses will have procedures and policies in place that centre on health and safety and the avoidance of physical harm. However, of equal importance is psychological safety – the process of creating a working environment that encourages all employees to feel safe and secure enough to contribute, to challenge norms and to consistently perform.

Put simply, a psychologically safe workplace is one in which employees can take interpersonal risks such as speaking up, asking questions and making mistakes without fear of negative consequences. Amongst progressive organisations it is increasingly recognised as promoting employee well-being, engagement and productivity, serving as a key driver of organisational success.

Psychological safety is not the same as EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) – EDI is a much broader field. However, the two are interlinked. In fact, experts in the field identify six key contributors to psychological safety, of which EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) is one.

Taken in turn, these six key contributors are:

  • Model leadership

Leaders should model the behaviour they want to see, demonstrating openness to feedback and actively seeking out different perspectives.

  • Conflict resolution

Training and effective communication around conflict resolution can help individuals navigate difficult conversations and work collaboratively.

  • Acknowledge mistakes

Building a culture where mistakes are acknowledged and failure is seen as a learning opportunity promotes a growth mindset, encouraging employees to take risks and experiment.

  • EDI

A diverse workplace with a range of perspectives and experiences promotes a culture where employees feel respected and valued.

  • Feedback channels

Creating channels for feedback and engagement such as surveys, focus groups and speak up platforms provides critical insight to employee concerns and ideas and promotes a sense of safety and ownership.

  • Safety before engagement

Psychological safety must be in place before the output from engagement activity such as workplace surveys can be trusted. Tools such as anonymous reporting can help you build up safety in parallel.

Starting the EDI journey

It’s clear that EDI and psychological safety go hand-in-hand. EDI efforts promote a culture of inclusivity, where individuals feel valued, respected, and supported regardless of their background, identity, or perspective. An inclusive culture creates a safe space for individuals to express themselves authentically and without fear of judgment or discrimination.

When employees see others who share their backgrounds represented in the workplace, it fosters a sense of belonging, which contributes to psychological safety. Equally, EDI initiatives raise awareness about unconscious biases and stereotypes that might exist within the workplace. By challenging and addressing these biases, employees are more likely to feel psychologically safe and be treated fairly.

Often, simply getting started on the EDI journey can be the biggest hurdle – but it’s a hurdle worth clearing. According to research by Oxford Economics and Unum, the average cost of turnover per employee (earning £25,000 a year or more) is £30,614. Making staff feel comfortable and confident and retaining their enthusiasm and service makes sound business sense.

In fact, a report from Accenture states that companies that engineer high psychological safety experience many benefits, including:

  • 27% reduction in turnover
  • 76% more engagement
  • 50% more productivity
  • 74% less stress
  • 29% more life satisfaction
  • 57% workers more likely to collaborate
  • 26% greater skills preparedness since workers learn at a faster rate when they feel psychologically safe
  • 67% higher probability that workers will apply a newly learned skill on the job

Accenture notes that leading companies such as Google, Gartner and Microsoft have already identified psychological safety as the key element to unlocking team potential. Accenture’s research shows that when employees are net better off, they are 5 times more likely to experience increased performance at work. And when performance is high, innovation follows.

The important point to note is that businesses needn’t go it alone. Expert assistance is out there to guide companies step-by-step at a pace that feels right.

EDI, psychological safety and inclusive growth

To conclude, the benefits of a truly embedded EDI culture – as opposed to surface-tweaking a few policies – are well documented. These include driving creativity and innovation and attracting and retaining the best talent.

It’s clear that starting the EDI journey – at whatever point feels comfortable – can lead to bigger and better things for an organisation. Psychological safety is one such benefit – creating a dynamic culture of trust, security and innovation which serves to unleash the full potential of your teams.

Businesses shouldn’t be shy about aligning initiatives such as EDI and psychological safety with business growth and an improved bottom line. Ultimately, these are the rewards for creating a business culture that encourages its employees to give the best versions of themselves. The term I like to use is ‘Inclusive Growth’ – the sweet spot that enables a business to thrive ethically and commercially.

Ultimately, making the first step towards a more inclusive and diverse future can feel daunting. But there’s little doubt that those businesses not taking that first step will quickly be left behind by more progressive competitors.

Toby Mildon
Toby Mildon
Founder at Mildon Consultancy | + posts

Toby Mildon is a Diversity & Inclusion Architect at Mildon, a consultancy and advisory business. Toby works with businesses to minimise the impact of bias, to break down cultural barriers, and to build a culture of inclusion. Before setting up his consultancy, Toby worked for several years as a diversity & inclusion leader at Deloitte and the BBC. Toby's book, titled 'Inclusive Growth', includes his proven framework for building D&I in corporations.