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Psychological Safety in the Workplace Is Not Universal and Must Consider Diverse Employee Needs: New Guide From McLean & Company

Global HR research and advisory firm McLean & Company’s newly published insights highlight how psychological safety at work has evolved in the future of work. The firm advises organizations that a holistic approach to psychological safety in the workplace must also consider the unique lived experiences of a variety of demographics.

As the employee experience remains a focus for organizations and employees alike, the traditional singular focus on physical safety in the workplace is no longer sufficient to meet employee expectations. In the future of work, organizations are increasingly expected to ensure that psychological safety is as integral a component to employee wellbeing as its physical counterpart. However, not every employee experiences psychological safety in the same way. To equip HR and people leaders focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion with the tools to adapt their approach to fostering psychological safety to meet unique employee needs, global HR research and advisory firm McLean & Company has released a new support guide, Primer: Psychological Safety in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Sessions.

In the resource, McLean & Company explains that successfully creating psychological safety through an inclusive lens ensures all employees experience the ability to speak up, take risks, and be their authentic selves without the fear of negative consequences, regardless of demographics or personal lived experiences. Building a psychologically safe workplace that prioritizes inclusion requires ongoing commitment from key players, including organizational leaders, people leaders, and HR.

“Establishing psychological safety in the workplace is not a quick fix or a simple checklist item on the organizational to-do list,” says Elysca Fernandes, director of HR Research & Advisory Services at McLean & Company. “Successfully building psychologically safe workplaces requires acknowledging that employees’ unique intersectional characteristics influence how they experience psychological safety at work. This is why conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion are one of the first opportunities to recognize that psychological safety is not a universal experience and approaches to fostering safety must meet individual needs.” 

To support leaders in creating psychological safety in DEI sessions and leading with inclusion in mind, the firm has created an overview of each stage of psychological safety, adapted from Timothy Clark’s Four Stages of Psychological Safety. Additionally, the primer includes practical sample tactics for the elements of psychological safety – organizational norms, leadership behaviors, and artifacts – that can be applied at each stage.

The four stages of psychological safety, adapted from Timothy Clark, are outlined below:

  1. Inclusion – Employees feel like they belong and are appreciated for being themselves.
  2. Learning – Employees feel safe participating in the learning experience.
  3. Contributing – Employees feel safe using their skills, making a difference, and participating.
  4. Challenging – Employees feel safe speaking up and challenging the status quo.

McLean & Company has organized the elements of psychological safety at work into concise categories that need to be aligned consistently to foster safety. These elements are outlined below:

  1. Organizational norms – Shared standards of acceptable behavior that are socially enforced and guide all interactions across the organization. For example, establishing ground rules for DEI sessions where people share their personal experiences.
  2. Leadership behaviors – Actions, values, and characteristics that leaders incorporate to motivate their team and achieve their goals. This may look like practicing grace and humility by apologizing for mistakes rather than acting defensively.
  3. Artifacts – The organization’s processes, policies, and procedures, such as introducing and consistently reinforcing an anti-discrimination policy.