A Conversation with Signify: 5 insights on Psychological Safety in a Great Workplace

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"Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes."

It is no easy feat for Signify Singapore, a company of less than 100 employees to have 93 per cent of its employees say that it is a psychologically and emotionally healthy place to work in. Achieving psychological safety in the workplace is an on-going journey, says Mr Jitender Khurana, General Manager, Signify (Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia and Myanmar). The company also ranked first in the 2020 and 2021 lists of Singapore Best Workplaces™ (Small Category).

Sharing his observations in conversation with Pamela Sng, Senior Consultant and Research Lead for Great Place to Work® ASEAN and ANZ, some of his key points were: why should workplaces care about psychological safety, how can business leaders and people managers learn to establish a psychologically safe workplace and how does this promote a high-trust work culture?

1. Psychological safety IS important in the workplace.
Employees should feel free to give and receive feedback, ask difficult questions, ask for help, raise issues and concerns, offer solutions to problems and even admit errors without any worries, or being penalized or ridiculed. We must encourage our people to bring their full self to work and we must value the opinions and contributions they bring to the organization.

2.  It can reap key benefits for the employee and employer alike.                                                  Psychological safety improves employee engagement. For example, if the team members feel safe at work, it’s easier for them to participate in meetings, it’s easier for them to collaborate and engage with customers and with peers in general, which in turn leads to productivity improvements, faster learning among the team members, and it builds resilience in the organization.

Psychological safety also fosters an inclusive workplace culture, safe environment, diversity in teams, and it allows them to flourish, regardless of their backgrounds. It also inspires creativity and drives innovation. I think if we look at ourselves, for example, it is through our knowledge and ideas that we bring value to the organization. In order for us to be creative, we need to ensure that the ideas from various people flow organically, and our teams must feel safe in expressing themselves.

A psychologically safe work environment symbolizes the trust and positive environment and culture within the teams. It also ensures that team members can be open, transparent and can trust each other, which helps in boosting their own morale and well-being. Last but not the least, I think psychological safety also boosts team performance. This cannot be more important in today’s world, which is very uncertain and very interconnected.

3. A business leader shapes what psychological safety looks like in the workplace.
As the leader, you shape, define and influence the organizational culture in a big way. One of the practices we advocate is to practice genuine curiosity. It is very important that as leaders, we actively solicit questions, ask people for their inputs and contributions; seek their feedback on an ongoing basis to ensure that we have strong input and valuable addition from everybody in the organization. It is also very important that one intervenes and prevents any negative behaviour which discourages or undermines and shame others.

Another aspect for a leader which I think is critical but is not that easy is that we need to learn to own up to our mistakes. To some extent, it is critical to be vulnerable and to accept your fallibilities. I think it’s a true mark of strength. It basically also demonstrates a willingness to improve and sets out a recipe for encouraging open and honest feedback. It is also suggesting to people that it’s totally fine to make mistakes. In fact, we should celebrate the mistakes as learning opportunities.

4. There are risks associated with ignoring psychological safety in the workplace.
I think we need to understand and recognize that it’s very natural for people to hold back ideas, be reluctant to ask questions, shy away from disagreeing with their bosses. It’s very, very normal. And if we, as leaders are not hearing from our people, we are going to miss out on a potentially game-changing idea, be it for new product or a new service. Or we might miss out on a potentially early warning or a threat which somebody would have foreseen but was very uncomfortable to bring it to his or her boss. I reference a study established by Gallup in 2017 which states that only three out of 10 workers in the US strongly agree that their opinions seem to count. The study also goes on to explain that if this ratio improves to six on 10, for example, it will lead to a 27 per cent reduction in employee turnover, a 40 per cent reduction in safety incidents and a 12 per cent increase in productivity.

5. Learn to navigate and overcome challenges in implementing psychological safety in the organization.
The biggest challenge in recent years is Covid, especially in 2020 and in 2021. In general there were a lot of business challenges especially in supply chain disruptions etc. One additional dimension which was more challenging to handle is the insecurity among the people which does not help cultivate openness and a positive environment. Therefore, it is critical for companies to step up our game to ensure that we further intensify our engagements with the teams so they have a transparent view towards how we handle any Covid challenges from the people angle, or related to safety aspects and what the company is doing on the business front.

It is this increased, intense engagement in open and transparent communication that helped us lower the insecurity among the different people in the organization. It was one of the most challenging aspects in some sense because we did not get disrupted in our journey towards keeping a diverse, inclusive and engaging workforce during the Covid period.

You can access the full webinar: Psychological Safety in a Great Workplace here

Daphne Lee

Daphne believes in building community-relatable content, telling stories through narratives that add value in today’s workplace and in culture-building. Her idea of a great workplace is one that thrives on openness, support and inclusivity while building trust and working towards a common business growth and purpose. A journalist, she spent 15 years writing for trade publications, lifestyle magazines and broadsheet supplements. Daphne was also active in the Parent Support Group of her daughters’ school, chairing the volunteer-run committee for 3 years. A mum of two teenagers and two adopted dogs, she enjoys riding on her trusty bicycle to discover new sights and sounds in Singapore.

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.