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Why 'WorkLife' Adam Grant's take on psychological safety is timely for Australia

Onus on businesses to reduce risks to mental health & wellbeing

room with not us written on wall

Workplaces shouldn’t make you sick or unhappy.

That’s why all Australian businesses now must abide by new Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to better manage psychosocial risks at work. Risk factors are those affecting wellbeing and mental health.

As well as conflict and excessive workloads, psychosocial risks may also include issues related to work-life balance, such as long work hours, job insecurity, and inadequate support, say experts.

Host of hugely popular podcast WorkLife, organisational psychologist Adam Grant, is world-renowned for his insights into workplace dynamics.

And part of his mission to figure out “how to make work not suck” leads him to conclude that business leaders and managers must create a psychologically safe workplace which helps to reduce psychosocial risk.

Ahead of his in-person tour Adam Grant LIVE: Unlock Hidden Potential & Transform WorkLife, let’s look at psychological safety and how Grant shows us that it links to better outcomes at work for all.

The Importance of Psychological Safety

On Adam Grant’s TED podcast WorkLife, Harvard professor Amy Edmondson (the “expert who put psychological safety on the map”) described psychological safety as “a climate in which one feels one can be candid.”

“It's a place where interpersonal risks feel doable, interpersonal risks, like speaking up with questions and concerns and half-baked ideas and even mistakes.”

Grant said the opposite might “chilling meetings where people are grilled and reprimanded. Punishment if employees voice concerns.”

Without psychological safety, Grant says people say different things behind leaders’ backs than to their faces.

However, a workplace with high psychological safety has an atmosphere where innovation thrives because individuals aren't paralysed by fear. They feel empowered to share ideas, even if they deviate from the norm.

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The New Onus on Organisations

Australia's revamped WHS laws signify a monumental shift. Now, organisations bear the onus to actively identify, minimise, or eradicate psychosocial risks where feasible.

This directive dovetails seamlessly with Grant's ethos. He champions the creation of psychologically safe spaces, which are, in essence, environments largely devoid of these psychosocial risks.

To recap, psychosocial risks in the workplace encompass factors like workplace bullying, excessive work pressures, and lack of autonomy. These risks, if not addressed, can lead to significant psychological or physical harm, including stress, burnout, and even, in severe cases, depression or anxiety disorders.

Without Psychological Safety

In the absence of psychological safety, people hide their mistakes to protect themselves. When errors aren’t detected, they get repeated. In the presence of psychological safety, people admit their mistakes to protect the group.

As Dr David Burkus says in Best Team Ever, research shows the leader should go first to signal vulnerability and fallibility.

“Continuing to appear immaculate doesn’t inspire the team to trust them. Instead, it inspires them to pretend to be perfect themselves – and diminishes trust over time.”

He says signalling vulnerability also signals interdependence, which is good for team cohesion. 

Accountability and Psychological Safety

Adam Grant says in WorkLife, “Things will go wrong! That’s the nature of work. Making it unsafe to acknowledge that is a problem.”

“But feeling safe to speak up is only half the equation. Psychological safety isn’t about making people comfortable, being ‘nice,’ or brushing aside mistakes — to work well, psychological safety has to be coupled with accountability. That combination creates a culture where people take intelligent risks.”

Grant says that what you’re aiming for on a team is a commitment to high standards (a culture of accountability) and the psychological safety to be candid with each other as you try to achieve them.

In fact, he says accepting mediocrity is one of the 4 Deadly Sins of Work Culture.

Grant’s Take on Work-Life Synergy

A major theme that resonates through Grant's work is "work-life." He doesn't view work and life as two separate entities but as interlinked dimensions. When psychological safety is ensured, it's not just the 'work' aspect that benefits. Employees carry this positivity, this feeling of being valued, into their personal lives as well.

This synergy, this symbiotic relationship between work and life, is what every organisation should aim for.

Adam Grant in Australia: Unlock Hidden Potential and Transform WorkLife

As tickets are already selling out for Grant's tour in February 2024, it's clear that the world of work is on the brink of a more empathetic, understanding, and ultimately, productive era.

And, with the imminent global release of Adam Grant’s new book Hidden Potential, it's exciting to think of what insights Grant will bring to Australia next year.

His tour couldn't be more timely. With his acute understanding of psychological safety, work-life balance, work culture, motivation, and meaning, organisations stand to gain immensely.

With the convergence of Grant's expertise and Australia's forward-thinking WHS laws, one can only anticipate a paradigm shift in how businesses approach psychological safety.

See Adam Grant in person in 2024

Growth Faculty members get discounts for in-person event tickets. Don’t miss Adam Grant’s highly-anticipated Australian tour in 2024 ADAM GRANT – LIVE: Unlock Hidden Potential & Transform WorkLifeTickets are selling fast. VIP tickets for Sydney are SOLD OUT. Limited VIP tickets left for Melbourne. (See our upcoming program of live virtual and in-person events.)

About Adam Grant

Adam Grant is a renowned organisational psychologist, bestselling author, and global influencer. As Wharton's top-rated professor for seven consecutive years, his expertise in motivation, generosity, original thinking, and rethinking has made him a leading authority in his field.

His five New York Times bestselling books Think Again, Give and Take, Originals, Option B, and Power Moves have resonated with millions of readers in 45 languages. His latest book is Hidden Potential.

With hugely successful TED talks and his TED podcasts WorkLife and ReThinking, plus a substantial social media following and popular monthly newsletter, Adam Grant is one of the world's most inspiring thinkers and speakers.

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Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash


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