Quick Guide To Psychological Safety Terms


With all the jargon involved with Psychological Safety, you wouldn’t be alone if you found some of the terms confusing. So we're providing some clarity on what each term means and why they are important to be aware of as you work to improve psychological safety in your workplace.

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Psychological Harm

What it is - Psychological harm means harm that causes mental or emotional trauma or that causes behavioural change or physical symptoms that require psychological or psychiatric care.

Why is it important in the workplace

Psychological harm can be caused in the workplace when psychosocial risks are not effectively identified and managed.  More on psychosocial risk next up but it’s worth noting that The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 says businesses must take reasonably practicable steps to protect health and prevent harm at work, including psychological harm.  Workplaces can be subject to some hefty fines if they aren’t identifying & minimizing potential harm to their employers but from a more humanistic perspective, preventing harm to your most valuable assets (your people) is a worthy and ethical cause that has far-reaching benefits across the communities you operate in.

Psychosocial Risks

What it is - An established definition of psychosocial hazards from occupational health is: When referring to work, the term ‘psychosocial hazard’ refers to the aspects of design and management of work and its social organisational contexts that may have the potential for causing psychological or physical harm

Why is it important in the workplace?

Psychosocial stressors are common in workplaces and take numerous forms.  Remember what we mentioned above about H & S Work Act requiring you to prevent harm. Identifying and managing these risks is imperative to meeting your obligations. Psychosocial hazards may arise in the work environment due to poor;

  • work design
  • systems of work
  • management of work
  • carrying out of work
  • personal interactions at work

When present they may cause an employee or group of employees to experience one or more negative psychological (and associated physiological) responses that create a risk to their health and safety. When people are experiencing negative psychological responses their productivity, performance and team interactions are compromised at work not forgetting the impact this will have on their personal lives.  For access to our chnnl Psychosocial Risk playbook click here.

Psychological Safety

What it is - “A belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” - Amy Edmondson. 

In essence, it is creating an environment where people can be themselves and interact authentically without fear of being embarrassed or marginalised.

Why is it important in the workplace?

Organisations that foster high levels of psychological safety are proven to be more successful than their counterparts due to increased engagement, high performance, innovation, productivity and cohesiveness.  When psychological safety is low and people don’t feel safe you are likely to see churn rates soar, mental health challenges increase, productivity deteriorates and innovation stifled.

Mental Wellbeing

What it is - Mental well-being is defined as the ability to cope with the day-to-day stresses of life, work productively, interact positively with others and realise our own potential.

Why is it important in the workplace?

Poor well-being is linked to an increase in absenteeism, presenteeism, incivility and lost productivity.

Many well-being initiatives focus on individuals without addressing factors in the workplace that contribute to psychological harm. It is worth noting that unless factors that cause psychological harm are managed and mitigated in the workplace then any well-being initiatives are likely to be unsustainable in isolation and are a waste of time and dollars.

Mental Health

What it is - We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. Mental Health is not a binary state but exists on a continuum. Mental health changes over time in response to different stresses and experiences. Many factors, both internal and external, affect where someone sits on the continuum. How we feel can vary from good mental well-being to difficult feelings and emotions, to severe mental health problems.

Why is it important in the workplace?

When people are experiencing poor mental health it will impact their ability to undertake their role effectively and impact how they interact with people around them both team and clients.

Mental health may be impacted by workplace unmanaged psychosocial risks and as noted above, workplaces are responsible for preventing harm from occurring.  It is also important for workplaces to provide access to support options for individuals who are experiencing mental health concerns whether work or non-work related to enable them to overcome challenges and realise their potential at home and in the workplace.

If you want to learn any more about the above or are keen to look under the hood at your organisation on these important issues, feel free to reach out for a chat with a chnnl consultant here.

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Written by Katie Grant
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