Linking Physical Safety and Psychological Safety – Is your organisation finding psychological safety harder to manage?

The link between physical safety and psychological safety lies in the fundamental need for individuals to feel secure in their environment. Physical safety refers to the protection from physical harm, while psychological safety involves feeling safe to express oneself, take risks, and make mistakes without fear of negative consequences.


Physical Safety and Psychological Safety, some points to ponder


  1. Hierarchy of Needs: Physical safety is a basic need, and psychological safety is a higher-level need. When physical safety is ensured, individuals can focus on higher-order needs like belonging and esteem, which are tied to psychological safety. One could state the case that if physical safety is mostly in place, the absence of psychological safety could become an even greater risk
  1. Trust and Security: Both forms of safety build trust. When individuals feel physically safe, they are more likely to feel secure in their environment, which can foster psychological safety. What if trust is an issue? Can trust issues impact performance in ways that are less likely to be understood?
  1. Well-being and Productivity: Ensuring both physical and psychological safety is crucial for overall well-being. A safe environment promotes mental health, reducing stress and enhancing productivity and engagement. Well-being is often poorly defined or understood. Blaming individuals who seem to be less resilient is an increasing trend. How is well-being defined in your organisation?

Challenges Organisations Face in Ensuring Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is less visible and measurable compared to physical safety. It involves subjective experiences and perceptions, making it harder to assess and address. Conversations regarding physical safety seem easier whilst topics such as mental health are perceived as being either superficial or avoided altogether. 

Organisational culture plays a significant role in psychological safety. In cultures where hierarchical structures are rigid or where failure is stigmatised, creating a psychologically safe environment is more challenging. Leadership significantly influences psychological safety and managers who are not supportive, who do not encourage open communication, or who react negatively to feedback can undermine an organisation’s intentions around supporting mental health. How does your organisation train managers to facilitate mental health awareness and mindfully have psychological safety on their agendas? 

Implementing practices that promote psychological safety often requires cultural and structural change, which can be met with resistance from employees and management. Many organisations do conduct well-being and cultural surveys, but these often fall well short of providing the data required to truly grasp how a work community is dealing with its mental wellness. Forward thinking leaders are beginning to use a dialogical process to get a more valid handle on the ‘current condition’ of their culture. ACN has developed tools in this space that are delivering results and supporting organisations better understand their psychological safety risks and hazards. 

Organisations can learn to balance maintaining accountability and performance standards when fostering an environment where employees feel safe to speak up and take risks. How would you seek to enhance psychological safety in your organisation? 


Final word

The usual advice is to foster open communication, encourage inclusive leadership, and build a culture that values and supports each individual’s contributions and well-being. Easier said than done! 

Stephen M Lang – Founder ACN

“ACN offers a range of services to support leaders and organisations better understand psychological safety and to take the necessary steps to reduce exposure to this area of risk”

“The results we achieve working with ACN is just outstanding”



Related Articles