Psychological safety and toxic bosses

by Oct 23, 2018

Improving psychological safety for better results

Psychological safety is key for making women feel more comfortable, but also for making teams more effective in the face of toxic bosses.


Research from Google suggests that psychological safety was by far the most important of the five key dynamics of effective teams. The Google researchers found that if teams have higher levels of psychological safety then they contribute more to their company in a number of ways. For starters, they are less likely to leave Google and when they stay, they generate increased revenue. They are also more likely to leverage the talents and strength of diverse ideas from their colleagues. They even receive two times more recognition for higher ratings for team effectiveness by executives.

Organizational behavioural scientist Amy Edmondson of Harvard first introduced the construct of “team psychological safety”. She defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”

Women tend to leave bosses rather than organisations. A toxic boss can be male or female. 3Plus is working with women who experience micro-aggressions on a daily basis. It impacts their productivity, engagement and commitment to their organisation. These women have been demeaned, sworn and yelled at, criticised unrelentingly, excluded and even had unsubstantiated and false accusations made against them. Toxic bosses like many other problems that are ring-fenced as an HR issue are in fact a business issue.

How psychologically secure do you feel in your workplace?  Let us know if any of this sounds familiar.

Read some resources from the 3Plus eGazine that may give you some greater insights.

How to improve psychological safety

Everyday business habits can create a toxic atmosphere and impact the psychological safety of a team. This can include:

  • interrupting
  • poor timekeeping
  • not giving recognition
  • not listening
  • lack of empathy
  • lack of integrity
  • not following through
  • playing favourites
  • gossiping
  • tolerating the intolerable
  • dismissing valid concerns
  • poor or confusing communications
  • passing the buck – not taking responsibility
  • Bystanding not upstanding
  • aggressive communication
  • either/or thinking

As a leader

What changes can you make for your team and what demands can you make of your own bosses to create an atmosphere which is not toxic? With the international scandals, it’s important to convey the message that your workplace is a safe place to be. It’s not just about avoiding third-party liability. Today all leaders and managers must be on the lookout and be able to recognise behaviours that threaten the integrity of the culture of your team. Understanding how to deal with that in a positive and constructive way is vital, not just for team spirit but for overall productivity. Encouraging an agreed code of conduct where all agree and decide guidelines for acceptable behaviour with clearly defined limits is a great step forward. Recognising “halo bias” towards key players who may also contribute to a toxic environment.

As a bystander

Learn the critical steps to staging a bystander intervention when you see another person being targeted is now important to challenge and shift the norms of the culture in a team. Coaching team members to flag up when they witness something that is outside agreed acceptability, will help anchor a positive culture. Participate in role-playing exercises to gain practise dealing with difficult conversations and ask 3Plus for training support. It’s important to become an upstander.

Bystanding is a form of collusion so change from a bystander to an upstander.   

As an individual

Be able to create a constructive conversation, identify the problem, discuss the impact and find a solution. Being an exemplary role model is important and being seen to take fair but decisive action all makes a difference.  Cultural and psychological safety is brought about by the behavioural changes of individuals.


Does your workplace take psychological safety seriously? 3Plus can help you improve with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops. Contact us here:

Staff Writer: Career Contributor
3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Job Search, Career and Mentoring or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

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