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Employee Recognition

Fostering Psychological Safety in the Workplace Through Employee Recognition

psychological safety

Recognition is a basic human need as is the need for psychological safety in the workplace, and these two concepts go hand in hand. Psychological safety in the workplace has become a hot topic for organizations and HR managers around the world with many asking questions like, what does psychological safety mean? How do we create psychological safety in the workplace? What can I do to improve psychological safety? Finding the right solution can be difficult, but amidst all of the articles and claims out there, one solution stands firm. Employee Recognition. 

The power of recognition reverberates through organizations and helps to improve transparency, trust, communication and happiness, all of which contribute to increased psychological safety in the workplace. Employee recognition connects back to our basic human needs and it psychologically helps to improve various aspects of our mental health and job satisfaction. So, let’s explore the link between fostering psychological safety in the workplace and what employee recognition can do to help. 

Table of Contents

What is Psychological Safety in the Workplace?

Why is Psychological Safety in the Workplace Important?

What does a Psychologically Safe Workplace Look Like?

The Connection Between Employee Recognition and Psychological Safety

The Science Behind Employee Recognition

How Long Does Recognition Last

How Often Do You Need To Recognize Employees

Recognition is an Essential Human Need

Empowering Through Recognition for a Psychologically Safe Workplace

psychological safety in the workplace

What is Psychological Safety in the Workplace?

Psychological safety in the workplace refers to an environment where employees feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks, expressing their ideas, and being themselves without fear of negative consequences, ridicule, or reprisal. It fosters a culture of open communication, collaboration, and mutual respect, ultimately enhancing team performance and well-being.

Why is Psychological Safety in the Workplace Important?

The importance of psychological safety in the workplace cannot be overstated. In environments where employees feel psychologically safe, they are empowered to express their ideas, voice concerns, and take calculated risks without fear of reprisal. This sense of safety fosters open communication, stimulates creativity, and encourages collaboration. 

Employees are more likely to engage in constructive conflict resolution, share innovative solutions, and contribute their unique perspectives. Moreover, psychological safety nurtures a positive organizational culture, leading to increased job satisfaction, higher retention rates, and enhanced overall well-being. Ultimately, investing in psychological safety is an investment in the success and resilience of both individuals and the collective strength of the workplace.

What does a Psychologically Safe Workplace Look Like?

Fostering psychological safety in the workplace goes beyond rhetoric; it’s about cultivating a tangible and supportive atmosphere that empowers individuals to be their authentic selves. Here’s a glimpse into what such a workplace might look like:

1. Open Communication Channels:

In a psychologically safe workplace, communication is not a one-way street. Employees feel encouraged to voice their opinions, share ideas, and raise concerns without the fear of judgment. Managers and team members actively listen, providing constructive feedback that promotes growth rather than criticism.

2. Embracing Diversity and Inclusion:

Diversity isn’t just acknowledged; it’s celebrated. A psychologically safe workplace values the unique perspectives each individual brings to the table. Inclusive practices are embedded in the organizational culture, ensuring everyone feels represented, respected, and heard.

3. Risk-Taking is Encouraged:

Employees are not afraid to take calculated risks. Mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning, not as reasons for blame. The fear of failure dissipates, fostering a culture of innovation where experimentation is not only allowed but actively encouraged.

4. Constructive Conflict Resolution:

Conflicts are seen as a natural part of collaboration, and mechanisms are in place for resolving them constructively. Teams engage in healthy discussions, differing opinions are respected, and conflict resolution is approached with a focus on finding common ground rather than assigning blame.

5. Empathy is Practiced:

Colleagues genuinely care about each other’s well-being. The workplace is characterized by empathy, with team members understanding and supporting one another during both personal and professional challenges. This empathy extends from the top down, creating a culture of compassion.

6. Accessible Support Systems:

Employees know they have access to support systems, whether it’s through mentorship programs, mental health resources, or avenues for professional development. A psychologically safe workplace recognizes the importance of providing resources that contribute to the overall well-being of its employees.

7. Leadership Sets the Example:

Leadership plays a pivotal role in modeling the behaviors that define psychological safety. Leaders not only advocate for an inclusive and supportive culture but actively demonstrate vulnerability, accountability, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

In essence, a psychologically safe workplace is a place where individuals feel valued, heard, and empowered to contribute their best. It’s a culture that recognizes the strengths in diversity, embraces growth through open communication, and fosters an environment where everyone can thrive both personally and professionally.

psychological safety in the workplace

So, Where Does Employee Recognition Come In?

Employee recognition isn’t just a feel-good initiative; it’s a potent catalyst for cultivating psychological safety within the workplace. Here’s how acknowledging and appreciating your team’s efforts can significantly contribute to creating a psychologically safe environment:

1. Validation and Belonging:

When employees receive recognition for their contributions, it sends a powerful message that their efforts are seen and valued. This sense of validation enhances a feeling of belonging, reinforcing the idea that every team member is an integral part of the workplace community.

2. Encourages Open Communication:

Recognition acts as a bridge to open communication. When individuals feel appreciated, they are more likely to express their thoughts, share ideas, and voice concerns. This transparency fosters a culture where everyone feels comfortable contributing to discussions without the fear of judgment.

3. Boosts Confidence and Risk-Taking:

Recognizing employees for their achievements boosts confidence levels. In an environment where achievements are celebrated, employees are more likely to take calculated risks and explore innovative solutions without the fear of failure. This risk-taking mindset is essential for fostering creativity and growth.

4. Strengthens Interpersonal Relationships:

Employee recognition isn’t confined to top-down acknowledgment. Peer-to-peer recognition builds strong interpersonal relationships. When colleagues appreciate each other’s contributions, it creates a collaborative atmosphere where trust flourishes, further enhancing psychological safety.

5. Cultivates a Positive Feedback Loop:

Recognizing positive behaviors creates a feedback loop that reinforces a psychologically safe culture. As individuals receive acknowledgment for their efforts, they become more receptive to constructive feedback, viewing it as a tool for improvement rather than criticism.

6. Mitigates Fear of Reprisal:

In a psychologically safe workplace, employees feel secure in expressing their opinions, even if they differ from the norm. Recognition plays a pivotal role in mitigating the fear of reprisal, ensuring that individuals can voice dissenting views without facing negative consequences.

7. Leadership Sets the Tone:

When leaders actively engage in recognizing and appreciating their team, it sets the tone for the entire organization. Leadership by example demonstrates that acknowledgment is not just a formality but a fundamental aspect of creating a workplace where everyone feels psychologically safe.

In essence, employee recognition serves as a cornerstone in building a psychologically safe workplace. It fosters an environment where individuals feel valued, heard, and empowered to contribute their best, ultimately creating a positive and inclusive culture that benefits both the individual and the collective success of the organization.

psychological safety in the workplace

The Science Behind Employee Recognition

Employee recognition is more than just a thank you for doing a good job. It’s something our brains are hardwired to need. In fact, recognition results in the release of dopamine. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain. Dopamine stimulates the parts of the brain (ventral striatum and nucleus accumbens) that processes rewards and creates positive emotions like satisfaction and enjoyment.

Gallup’s article about praising employees states that, “Receiving praise and recognition releases dopamine in the brain, which creates the feelings of pride and pleasure. Better yet, that dopamine hit cements the knowledge that more of that behavior will create more praise, resulting in another dopamine drench, and so on.”

Based on this, it’s no surprise that employee recognition results in higher levels of motivation, engagement and productivity, lower staff turnover, and an increased ability to retain and attract top talent.

Here are some recognition and engagement statistics that might blow your mind:

  • Employees who receive strong recognition are 33% more likely to be proactively innovating and generate 2x as many new ideas per month
  • Organizations that give regular recognition experience 31% lower voluntary turnover
  • 92% of workers are more likely to repeat a specific action after receiving recognition for it
  • 78% of employees work harder and with more drive when their efforts are being rewarded
  • Recognition can increase employee engagement, productivity, and performance by 14%
  • Just improving recognition by 15% in a company can increase its margins by 2%
  • Organizations with recognition programs have employees that are 82% happier

The psychological need for humans to receive recognition drives much of the impact of employee recognition in the workplace. This need helps drive employee engagement and happiness which helps to foster a psychologically safe workplace for all employees. 

For more recognition statistics, check out our article ‘Stats that Prove Why Investing in an Employee Rewards & Recognition Program is a No-brainer

psychological safety in the workplace

How Long Does Recognition Last

The effects of dopamine wears off fast. This is why after a pay rise or promotion you’re extremely motivated to do a good job for the first month or so, but after that, the motivation starts to dwindle. 

It’s impossible to determine how long positive effects of recognitions lasts on an employee as there are many factors that affect it;

  • The individual’s personal need for recognition frequency.
  • The culture of the company (is it positive already, is it negative).
  • The burnout level of an employee (if an employee is so burnt out, the positive recognition might fall on deaf ears).
  • Day to day, hour to hour comments. For example, if an employee receives recognition from a manager one day, but the next day gets pulled aside for being late, the positive effects may wear off as their most recent experience is a negative one.

How often do you need to recognize employees

“Recognition is a short-term need that has to be satisfied on an ongoing basis – weekly, maybe daily.” says Gallup’s chief scientist, Jim Harter. 

At minimum, Gallup advises that you should praise someone verbally once a week. 

Furthermore, you can never give too much recognition as long as it is honest and deserved, according to Gallup.

Using employee recognition software like Bucketlist Rewards provides employees and managers with an easy way to publicly acknowledge their peers. The recognition software integrates with platforms you use daily, such as email, Microsoft Teams or Slack, or you can also use the recognition app to do a quick shout-out. 

According to Advisor Websites CEO Alex Wingert, “Bucketlist has helped me and other managers see the one percenters that would otherwise go unnoticed.”

Dopamine is a human need, but most people feel like they don’t receive enough praise.

psychological safety in the workplace

Recognition is an Essential Human Need

Looking into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, at every level there are needs that can be satisfied by employers.

Starting at the bottom for the greatest basic need and working your way up to the top level, workplaces have the ability to provide great impact.

  • Physiological needs – these are biological requirements for human survival, such as food, water, shelter, warmth.
    • Workforce impact: you need an income to be able to afford food, shelter and warmth.
  • Safety needs – humans need to feel secure and safe. This includes sense of order (e.g. laws and police protection), financial security, health and wellbeing.
    • Workforce impact: financial security through job security.
  • Love and belonging needs – the need for interpersonal relationships motivates behavior. This includes friendships, intimacy, trust, acceptance and both giving and receiving affection.
    • Workforce impact: relationships between colleagues, sense of belonging, trust with manager.
  • Esteem needs – this is divided into two parts; esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, independence), and desire for reputation or respect from others (status, prestige).
    • Workforce impact: accomplishing tasks/projects, being respected by colleagues, not being micromanaged, job title.
  • Self-actualization needs – this is the top level and Maslow describes it as the “Desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.” Self-actualization needs are different per person, and can present itself economically, academically, athletically or creatively.
    • Workforce impact: motivated to do more, willingness to go above and beyond for a cause they believe in, out-of-the-box thinking, strong ethical standards, taking responsibility for actions, believing in self.

Gratitude and happiness

Additionally, studies show that if you express gratitude, it raises your happiness by 25%. Using an employee recognition and rewards program not only helps the person receiving the recognition to feel satisfied, but also it helps the person giving the recognition express gratitude. It’s a win-win-win situation as the company benefits with increased productivity and higher levels of engagement. 

Empowering Through Recognition for a Psychologically Safe Workplace

In the intricate dance of workplace dynamics, leveraging the power of employee recognition emerges not only as a strategy for boosting morale but as a transformative force in fostering psychological safety. As we draw the curtains on this exploration, let’s distill key takeaways into actionable insights on how to effectively use employee recognition to nurture a psychologically safe workplace:

1. Make Recognition Personal and Specific:

Tailor your recognition to the individual’s contributions. Specific acknowledgment not only highlights the value of their work but also reinforces the connection between effort and appreciation, contributing to a sense of psychological safety.

psychology of recognition

2. Encourage Peer-to-Peer Recognition:

Create avenues for colleagues to appreciate each other’s efforts. Peer recognition strengthens interpersonal bonds, fostering a collaborative spirit and contributing to a workplace where everyone feels seen and valued.

3. Integrate Recognition into Daily Practices:

Make recognition a habitual part of your workplace culture. Whether it’s a quick shout-out during team meetings or a virtual kudos board, integrating recognition into daily practices reinforces the idea that acknowledgment is woven into the fabric of your organization.

4. Connect Recognition to Core Values:

Align recognition with your organization’s core values. When employees are recognized for behaviors that exemplify these values, it not only reinforces cultural alignment but also fosters a shared understanding of what contributes to a psychologically safe environment.

5. Leadership Engagement is Key:

Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the workplace culture. Actively engage leadership in recognizing and appreciating their teams. This top-down approach sets the tone, emphasizing that recognition is not just a bottom-up initiative but a fundamental aspect of leadership and organizational success.

6. Embrace Constructive Feedback Alongside Recognition:

Recognize that constructive feedback is an integral part of growth. Combine acknowledgment with guidance for improvement, creating a balanced approach that reinforces a psychologically safe culture where individuals are receptive to both positive recognition and areas for development.

7. Measure and Iterate:

Implement mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of your recognition initiatives. Collect feedback, analyze its impact on workplace dynamics, and iterate your approach accordingly. Continuous improvement ensures that recognition remains a dynamic tool for fostering psychological safety.

To learn more about the power of employee recognition and rewards, click the button above!

In the symphony of recognition and psychological safety, each note plays a crucial role in creating a harmonious workplace culture. By intentionally integrating recognition into your organizational DNA, you not only uplift individual spirits but also contribute to a collective sense of belonging, trust, and empowerment. As you embark on this journey, remember: employee recognition is not just a gesture; it’s the heartbeat of a workplace where psychological safety thrives, and every individual feels inspired to bring their authentic selves to the table.

To find out more about how the Bucketlist employee rewards and recognition app can help your business, contact us for a free demo. We’d love to help you improve your company’s employee recognition program!

Bucketlist is listed as one of the best employee recognition software programs available, with a 4.9 star rating out of 5 on G2

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