Using Mentoring to Ensure Psychological Safety in the Workplace

A happy, productive workplace with five women enjoying their work.

What is psychological safety and how can mentoring improve it in the workplace?

According to ​Australian researchers Alexander Newman, Ross Donohue, and Nathan Eva, the term psychological safety refers to “…a shared belief amongst individuals as to whether it is safe to engage in interpersonal risk-taking in the workplace.”

In other words, psychologically safe teams trust each other to experiment without judgement, voice opinions without being shamed, and fail without being labelled a failure.

Who is responsible for it in the workplace? Everyone in the company. However, embedding it into a workplace culture starts with leaders and mentors.

The Perks of a Psychologically Safe Environment

A climate of psychological safety can facilitate innovativeness within organisations. Newman, Donohue, and Eva found that:

At the individual level, there is growing evidence that supportive organisational practices are positively related to employee work outcomes such as organisational commitment and job performance as they heighten perceptions of psychological safety. For example, research has found that employee perceptions of organisational support (Carmeli & Zisu, 2009), access to mentoring (Chen et al., 2014), and diversity practices (Singh et al., 2013) foster work outcomes through the mediating mechanism of psychological safety.

Similarly, another study found that the amount of formal mentoring provided by mentors related positively to mentees’ affective commitment and related negatively to turnover intention.

Harnessing the Power of Mentoring

Psychological safety can account for some of the influence mentoring has on innovativeness. In other words, mentoring can lead to monumental innovation due to the psychological safety that it creates within organisations.

In Mentoring Top Leadership Promotes Organisational Innovativeness through Psychological Safety and Is Moderated by Cognitive Adaptability, James H. Moore and Zhongming Wang found:

  1. The quality of mentoring individuals is linked to their perception of organisational innovativeness (meaning effective mentoring is one way to increase innovativeness).
  2. Individuals’ perception of psychological safety within an organisation mediates the relationship between the quality of mentoring and their perception of organisational innovativeness (meaning effective mentoring is another way to improve innovativeness via the development of psychological safety).
  3. Cognitive adaptability negatively moderates the relationship between mentoring and innovativeness (meaning effective mentoring can help leaders with lower levels of cognitive adaptability to foster innovativeness within the organisation).

This means that it’s important to establish a psychologically safe environment in order to “inspire not only top leadership to try new avenues but also to encourage/enable all those within the organisation to feel free to express their opinions and ideas.”

Ultimately, organisations should proactively and selectively prioritise mentoring, especially among top leadership, while taking into consideration individuals’ differing levels of cognitive adaptability​. The implementation of a mentoring program can not only create a psychologically safe workplace, but can inspire innovation, increase organisational commitment, boost job performance, and decrease turnover.

Do these sound like some perks you’d be interested in? The path to achieving them isn’t as difficult as you might think. Start by connecting your people across teams with Mentorloop; learn how by checking out a demo.

Learn More about Mentorloop

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Em is our Marketing Manager at Mentorloop. That's a lot of 'm's! | She is passionate about crafting messages, crafternoons and craft beer.

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