top of page

The Three Myths About Psychological Safety And Their Impact On The Great Resignation

Written by: Paul L. Glover, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


One of the causes underlying the Great Resignation — the term coined for the pandemic phenomenon that has 48% of America's workers actively job searching or watching for other opportunities, according to Gallup — is the lack of psychological safety in the work environment. But before organizations can create a culture of inclusion and engagement that will stop employees from leaving, they must overcome three myths about psychological safety.

Dr. Amy Edmondson, the Harvard Business School professor who coined the term, defines psychological safety as a team member's “belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes,” such as questioning a team leader's decision. Teams with a high level of psychological safety not only allow, but encourage, team members to express opinions, offer new ideas, challenge the status quo, question decisions, take risks and admit mistakes. Team members will do so because they don’t fear being humiliated or punished by their team leader or fellow team members when they do speak out.

Why does it matter in the work environment?

Google researchers in Project Aristotle found psychological safety is a critical element of higher performance and more engagement and was essential to the creation of high-performance work teams. However, creating and maintaining psychologically safe work environments remains extraordinarily difficult because of these three prevailing myths:

1. Our organization already has a psychologically safe work environment.

Unfortunately, for a majority of organizations, this belief is not founded in reality. A recent McKinsey Global Survey reveals most organizations do not demonstrate the positive behaviors that create an environment of psychological safety. In addition

  • Only 43% of employees report a positive climate within their team.

  • Only 27% of employees say their leader always encourages and recognizes suggestions for improvement.

  • Approximately 70% of employees see no reason to say something when they see something wrong or when they have an idea that would benefit the company.

In addition, Gallup research reveals only three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that, at work, their opinions count.

In most organizations, team members have learned the hard way — based on the reactions of team leaders when someone speaks “truth to power” — that speaking up is not received well by those in charge. The result? Team members, having good survival instincts, focus on self-protection rather than sharing information that would improve performance.

2. It’s senior leadership’s responsibility to not only create, but also maintain, a psychologically safe work environment.

Initially, senior leaders are responsible for creating organizational psychological safety. They can do this by:

  • Creating a value statement explaining why a psychologically safe work environment is essential to the organization’s success and describing the behaviors — e.g., respect, trust, listening, openness, inclusiveness — required to create and maintain it.

  • Modeling those behaviors in every interaction.

  • Providing training in emotional intelligence for all team leaders and team members.

  • Conducting focus groups and surveys to gauge the level of organizational psychological safety and asking what actions are needed to increase the level of psychological safety.

  • Making the creation of a psychologically safe work environment an element of every team leader’s performance evaluation.

Even though the ongoing support of senior leadership is necessary, team leaders have the strongest influence on their team members. For a psychologically safe work environment to thrive, it must be enthusiastically embraced by every team leader, at every level of the organization. This requires team leaders to:

  • Improve their emotional intelligence skillset.

  • Consistently model the behaviors set forth in the value statement.

  • Encourage team members to embrace the concept of psychological safety and model the behaviors that promote a psychologically safe work environment.

Unless team leaders, at all levels of the organization, publicly and consistently support psychological safety through their language and actions, team members will not take the actions necessary to create a high-performance work team nor will they support team members who do take those actions.

It is the involvement of team members that matters most. Psychological safety only survives if every team member accepts their responsibility to support the rights of every other team member to be treated with dignity and respect and defend those rights against any behavior, from senior leaders, team leaders or other team members, who try to erode those rights.

Only with a commitment to the goal of a psychologically safe work environment, at every level of the organization, can a culture of silence, based on fear, be replaced with an enduring culture of “see something, say something” that creates high-performance teams.

3. Once a psychologically safe work environment is created, it will always exist.

Psychologically safe work environments are not only rare but also fragile. They rely solely on the willingness of team members to speak candidly about issues in the work environment and are easily destroyed if that willingness is withheld for any reason.

This fragility requires senior leaders, team leaders and team members to always be alert to any words or actions that inhibit a team member’s willingness to speak candidly. Such destructive words or actions occur when a team member is:

  • Not trusted or treated with respect

  • Not given the opportunity or allowed to speak up

  • Ignored or humiliated by the team leader or other team members

When these words or actions occur, immediate action must be taken to show the entire organization that psychological safety is not just words in the value statement, but part of the organization’s culture and, as such, will be protected.

Time is running out for organizations to take the actions necessary to convince employees they should remain with the organization. The pandemic has given employees the time to think about the type of organization they want to be a part of. If employees don’t believe their organization respects them or wants to hear their opinions, those employees will look elsewhere. By addressing these three myths of psychological safety, organizations can show their employees the work environment and culture that will ensure better retention.

Want to learn more from Paul? Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and visit his website.


Paul L. Glover, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Paul is known as The No B.S. Workplace Performance Coach. For the last 30 years, his mission has been to assist Executives, Team Leaders, and their organizations in achieving their full potential.

His approach is practical, hands-on, grounded in the realities of the real world of work, and very results-oriented – but all applied with a sense of humor and panache.

Paul is also a "recovering trial lawyer," a Chicago Bears fanatic, an unabashed Starbucks addict, and the author of WorkQuake™, a book dedicated to how to thrive in the Information Economy and a Member of the Forbes Coaching Council.



  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04


bottom of page