In search of psychological safety

The objectives of the autism and neurodiversity civil rights movements overlap significantly with the interests of those who advocate for greater levels of psychological safety in the workplace and in society in general. To appreciate the significance of the overlap the following working definition of psychological safety comes in handy:

Psychological safety is a condition in which you feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo- all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized or punished in some way.

Timothy R Clark

psychological safety

In the workplace the topic of psychological safety is relevant to all industries and sectors.

innovation is almost always a collaborative process and almost never a lightbulb moment of lone genius. As the historian Robert Conquest once said, “What is easy to understand may have not been easy to think of.” Innovation is never easy to think of. It requires creative abrasion and constructive dissent—processes that rely on high intellectual friction and low social friction.

Timothy R Clark

Creating and maintaining a psychologically safe environment is fundamental for the flourishing of all staff, yet in most organisations psychological safety is the exception rather than the norm. Observations from a study of redesign projects in the UK on improving the capabilities of organisations in the NHS illustrate why the importance of nurturing psychological safety can not be overstated:

“Our analysis suggests that while engaging experts it is also necessary to manage ongoing collaborations between them as the service redesign process unfolds. Interprofessional health-care work is high-stakes and ‘fraught with tension and anxiety’. Individual jobs, contracts, issues of governance, compliance and patient care are simultaneously in question. The transformation manager describes: ‘challenges, disagreements, debates, … change is frightening, it can make you feel a bit insecure’. Stakeholders were well aware of the challenges, describing how vested and competing interests mean that having everyone ‘around the table had got that sort of political aspect to it’. These concerns could prevent ‘properly discussing’, interpreting and critiquing different forms of evidence, Moreover, during these redesign efforts, experts came and went. This meant that ongoing attention to managing collaborations appeared to be very critical.”

Further examples from:

  1. The education sector
  2. The software industry
  3. The healthcare sector

Given our first hand experience with innovation in these sectors and our involvement in autistic self advocacy and neurodiversity activism, the S23M team has decided to conduct a global survey on psychological safety in the workplace. The resulting data will be of particular interest for autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people who are experiencing bullying and more or less subtle forms of discrimination at work.

We intend to share the results and collaborate with researchers who focus on psychological safety, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The survey data will also be a valuable source of relevant background information for the Neurodiversity Documentary project.

psychsafe

You can assist our effort by participating in the survey, and by encouraging your friends to participate in the survey. The survey only takes between 2 to 5 minutes to complete and is accessible here.

surveybutton

Please note:

  • The survey is completely anonymous, without requesting any identifiable information about specific companies or individuals, so there is no risk for organisations or individuals to find themselves exposed in “below average” territory.
  • The most effective way to encourage participation in the survey may be via informal channels and trusted personal relationships that sidestep top level management and human resource departments, which are often forced to perpetuate the party line that “everything is under control”.

Related food for thought on psychological safety in our society:

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