Generative HSE
Safety beliefs, standards, leadership & performance


Psychological Safety Done Differently

- By Pete Jensen

Mental Health conditions costs Australian business $10.9 billion a year and with the World Health Organisation estimating that depression will be the greatest health burden by 2030, clearly it’s time for organisations to look at how they can manage this growing workplace threat differently.

Are current workplace initiatives working?

Has true Psychological Safety been lost in a fog of well-meant but ineffective ad hoc initiatives?

A recent Wall Street comments that, “Nearly 90% of employers offer wellness incentives,… That's up from 57% of companies in 2009, costing $521 per employee on average”, yet the question remains as to whether they are effective.

Recently published findings at Google, based on 2 years of research and rigorous analysis identified five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google, and in Google’s own words, “Psychological Safety was far and away the most important of the five dynamics we found -- it’s the underpinning of the other four.”

And most importantly, they have systematised it.

The Safety Differently principles

Forward thinking organisations who have identified the threat of psychologically (un)safe workplaces and practices, are creating a competitive advantage by engaging in Psychological Safety strategies which embrace the 3 Safety Differently Principles.


1.     People are the solution not the problem

In addressing the Psychological Safety risk, , recognising that people are the solution and engaging them in the important process of identifying early warning signs and speaking up, generates a healthy peer driven and sustained culture of psychological safety.

Safety Culture Expert Patrick Hudson calls these generative” cultures where ‘peers take care of the safety of peers. Harvard’s thought leading Shaun Achor’s echoes this sentiment stating that “Leaders have got it wrong…it’s about switching team members on to the benefits they receive in providing social support to their peers.”

This is further evidenced where organisations invest in helping employees take ownership of their own psychological fitness, and support them with the insights and skills to manage this through the delivery of personal development programs around psychological safety and wellbeing.


2.     Safety is ethical responsibility modelled downwards not a meaningless bureaucratic activity

Whilst well intended, too many organisations rely on ad hoc psychological well-being initiatives that fail to deliver and end up adding just another layer of meaningless beaurocratic activity to the organisation.

Renowned TED speaker Simon Sinek advocates the impact of ethical responsibility recognised by authentic leaders who lead with ‘Care and Consequence’.


Creating a successful and sustainable shift from bureaucracy to ethical purpose around Psychological Safety requires:

-        A clear and prioritised strategy

-        A common understanding of the purpose and context

-        Welldefined employee and leadership actions, expectations and consequences of non-participation

-        Systemisation and measurement


3.     Safety is about the presence of success not only negatives

Success in the context of Psychological Safety is evidenced by proactive positive behaviours, systems that enable it, and peer and leadership actions that foster a culture of high trust and social support.

Individuals feel safe to speak up about their own challenges to psychological wellbeing, and colleagues have the confidence and competence to enquire and engage with peers when early warning signs are noticed.

Success is visible and team members and leaders recognise and celebrate the demonstration of vulnerability without fear, and the sharing of errors, concerns or weaknesses as signs of success.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review showcased Deliberately Developmental Organizations, (DDO’s) who have turned trust and vulnerability into their competitive advantage.

DDO leaders successfully recognize the need for vulnerability, accountability and trust in sustaining high individual and team performance, and focus on the demonstration of positive behaviours and success, as opposed to the negatives.