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Psychological Safety In The Workplace and its Effect on Employee Commitment

By Georgia Kartsanis

Question: Mrs Kartsanis, it is frequently argued that the lack of employee commitment might give rise to significant challenges and risks for the organizations.  Which are the main reasons for that, in your opinion?

GK: It is true that in our days, many organizations are facing significant business challenges due to their people’s lack of commitment. Despite their efforts to reframe and communicate their vision, mission and values or to align their leadership teams, the problem remains unresolved.

The emotional gap between the leaders and the people they manage grows deeper, increasing the risk of survival, especially within the turmoil of a business environment under rapid transformation.

Much research has been conducted aiming at explaining the driving factors of employee disengagement. Many different approaches have been implemented to reinforce employee commitment to the organization’s vision and development goals. Most attempts point towards the same direction: The development of psychological safety in the workplace as a key instigator of employee commitment.

Question: What do we mean by the term «psychological safety» in the workplace?

GK: The term psychological safety refers to the firm belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking out his ideas, posing questions, expressing concerns or making mistakes. It therefore refers to the development of a culture based on mutual trust and respect, which encourages employees to be themselves and feel safe by being so.

Psychological safety in the workplace encourages moderate risk taking, creative thinking, innovative approaches and timely sharing of questions and doubts.

It encourages people to trust that their leaders will protect them, offer them a safe place to try themselves, learn, experiment with new behaviors and approaches and develop themselves, contributing at the same time to their team development and the development of the organization they belong to.

Question: Is there any way of measuring the level of employees’ psychological safety in the workplace and its effect on the organization? Is there any significant piece of research that proves its importance?

GK: Of course there is. In 2017, a Survey conducted by Ultimate Software, global leader in cloud solutions, in a sample of 2000 US employees came to demonstrate the significant gap that existed in terms of experiences and perceptions, between the managers of leading organizations and the people they managed.

This survey pointed out that there was a significant misalignment in the perceptions of the two groups, regarding the quality and the dynamics of their relationship. It also stressed the impact that the perceived relationship quality had on employee satisfaction and retention. Surprisingly enough, it revealed that the leadership skills and characteristics that most employees were seeking for in their management teams were approachability, transparency and honesty.

This is the Survey that we tried to replicate in Greece, with the important cooperation and support of Focus Bari and Boussias Communications.

Question: So, why are the employees leaving their organizations? Did your Survey offer any significant insights as to this burning question?

GK: Well it gave us one, but crucial answer: People are not leaving their organizations, they are leaving their managers. Besides this alarming truth, it revealed two major sources of issues.

  1. Significant communication gaps: The Survey revealed a significant deviation in the evaluation of the leader-manager relationship by each different group (leaders and the people they manage). In a scale from 1 to 10, we observed an average difference of 2 points in almost all answers given by the two groups. This generates reasonable doubts about the extent to which problems, concerns, feelings and thoughts are being expressed and communicated.
  2. High levels of CEO confidence but low levels of employee satisfaction regarding the understanding of their needs and emotions: 50% of the managers questioned rated their leaders’ ability to understand and respect their emotions as low to average, with only an 8% of the leaders feeling the same about themselves. 47% of the managers questioned stated that their leaders did not particularly respect the boundaries of their personal relationships beyond work, a reality that was only acknowledged by a 5% of the CEO’s participating in the Survey. Last but very alarming was the fact that 43,4% of the managers questioned, expressed a dissatisfaction regarding the fairness of the treatment they received by their CEO’s, with only a 4% of the CΕΟ’s admitting the same.


  1. Lack of approachability: 83% of the Greek CEOs considered themselves highly approachable to their people, with only a 47% of the Greek managers feeling the same. On the contrary, a 25% of the managers questioned, stated that their CEOs were not approachable at all, a self-evaluation that was made only by a 4,3% of the CEO’s participating in the Survey.

Question: Mrs Kartsanis, these are useful but quite alarming insights. Where is this leading us and what could we do to reverse this situation?

GK: First of all, we need to revisit the leadership development and assessment criteria. In our days, Senior Executives are being selected and promoted on the basis of their technical knowhow and expertise.  They do not receive any training or coaching on critical behavioral competencies. As a result, they lack the necessary skills that would enable them to better understand and manage their people’s emotions, motivating and inspiring them.

If we really want to increase our people’s engagement and commitment we need to take drastic action. Today, there are specialized consultancies, such as SARGIA Partners,  that have the scientific training, tools and methodology to support Leaders in understanding and effectively connecting with their people.

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