How free speech increases productivity
Consider two offices. In one, it is difficult to disagree with colleagues. People are always on their guard. In the other, staff enjoys ‘psychological safety’ — they can take interpersonal risks. Which office is more productive?
Harvard University researcher Amy Edmonson has shown that the psychologically safer a team is, the better it performs. “It has been found that psychological safety also correlates to better performance and higher creativity in work teams. On an individual level, researchers say, it has a positive effect on engagement and commitment,” says an article in BBC Capital.
The concept of psychological safety is more important now as a rapidly-changing economy has reduced job security. While companies cannot guarantee jobs, the office culture they create is in their hands. In 2016, a Google study showed that work- ers who felt freer and bonded better outperformed more talented teams.
Workers feel safer when the cost of tak- ing risks is low. They also admit mistakes readily when they know they won’t lose their job. “This is especially true for people who struggle to grasp a group’s norms... like very young or shy workers, or those facing cultural barriers. If they feel misunderstood or ostracised, they are less eager to stand out and show what they have to offer.”
Psychological safety is hard to implement from the top. It is usually a group norm, backed by team leaders. Still, it is worth promoting as a corporate value because, when workers cannot speak freely, for fear of the boss, “information about problems tends to get stuck on its way to the top and psychologically unsafe groups may well remain under the radar of HR or top leadership teams.”
In a team where silence is golden, problems don’t come to light until it is too late.
PERFORMANCE BOOST: A study showed that freedom beats talent at work