Top Workplace Trend Number 8

Top Ten Work Trends Quarterly Updates

A diverse group of SIOP members are serving as Trend Champions for the people-related work trends that SIOP members collaboratively predicted to be the most impactful in 2023. Each Trend Champion has expertise in and professional passion for their trend subject. SIOP appreciates their service to the profession in providing quarterly updates on their chosen topics.

Find the full list of topics and links to the other Top 10 Work Trends here

Trend #8: Psychological Safety in the Workplace


2023 4th Quarter Update

On January 13, 2010, I went to work, still grappling with the staggering reality that just the day before, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake had struck Haiti, where my family is from. Despite the uncertainty of having my peers and loved ones unaccounted for at the time, I knew I could not allow my feelings to meddle with my workday so I would not be considered unprofessional or underperforming. I remember being called into my supervisor's office shortly after I arrived. She asked how I was doing, and I responded that I was "okay." Instead of answering, she paused for a moment. I broke down in tears, releasing a weight of emotions. My supervisor allowed me the space to grieve and feel my feelings, even while we knew work had to continue. It was okay for me not to be okay.

Being an Afro-Caribbean-American woman, this is one of many times I have had to show up to work with the anxiety of what goes on overseas and in the United States. Whether it is earthquakes, hurricanes, insecurity, poverty, violence abroad, or marginalization and discrimination in the United States, it impacts how I show up to work everyday. Oftentimes, there is guilt from the assurance of a quality of life that many people overseas (or in the United States) do not have, grief at seeing how people who look like me suffer day-to-day, anger at the systems that fuel these gross inequities, helplessness at my limitations in making these challenges go away, and brokenness at how, in the name of being resilient, we still have to mask our trauma. I find myself having to emotionally disconnect to avoid the feeling of being portrayed as political, polarizing, overzealous, or underperforming at work. As I write at this moment, I still have these exact feelings for myself and many others. That is just the core of what it is like being a Black woman and first-generation immigrant and seeing the reality of how much my humanity, as well as that of other people of color, is challenged every single day, whether in or out of the workplace. Reflecting on my work experience in 2020, I learned that my ability to perform at my best has often been coupled with the permission and the space to process, grieve, and challenge this traumatic existence, even in the workplace, hence psychological safety. In situations where I did not have that, I knew that even while I would contribute 200% of the effort, I was never 100% safe to just be.

This quarter, I do not have findings to share. Neither can I offer soft reassurances about the multilayered facets of psychological safety based on the stark truth: many first and second-generation immigrants are showing up to work carrying grief, pain, and a sense of helplessness, torn between the struggles their loved ones in their home countries and their own lived experiences. Unfortunately, for many, we are not given the space to express the pain and the helplessness that we experience. It is constantly having to leave your personal feelings at home to avoid retaliation in the workplace. The trend as it relates to psychological safety in the workplace this quarter closely aligns with this historical trend of people of color routinely having to suppress the challenges of being an immigrant or child of immigrants in the midst of what goes on back home. This experience does not escape Indigenous or African American professionals who are still impacted by the systems that undermined even their ancestors.

Our work as I-O psychology practitioners is NOT supposed to be comfortable. Advocating for the right to have a conducive workspace to thrive is not easy work, but it is necessary. Being honest about the plethora of barriers in the workplace that inhibit psychological safety should not come at the expense of our employees. Traumatic experiences are not only valid when they SOLELY affect us personally. One's humanity does not diminish based on their skin color, disability, gender identification, or sexual orientation. It is impossible to separate business from personal when your humanity or that of your loved ones or people who look like you are constantly challenged in and outside of the workplace.  

This year, I was presented with the challenges of "allyship." An ally has the luxury of posting think pieces, conducting training, and doing "safe" and "trendy" things that do not compromise their reputation, ego, or pride. On the other hand, an accomplice understands that using their voice and leveraging their privilege to ensure safe workplaces for marginalized groups can be risky, but it is worth it. An accomplice does not engage in the work to "glamorize" diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA), nor superficially boost engagement, retention, motivation, or performance metrics. Instead, they understand the profound importance of this work. They are ready to challenge the status quo, disrupt comfortable narratives, and make tangible sacrifices to pursue real change, even if it means standing on an island alone. For an accomplice, it is not about maintaining a façade of commitment but effecting deep structural transformations that uplift and empower marginalized voices, forging a path toward genuine equity and inclusion. 

Allow me to rephrase this definition of an accomplice - As I-O psychology practitioners, we must distinguish ourselves through a willingness to engage in deep self-reflection and courageous accountability. This involves acknowledging our own biases and mistakes and actively working to rectify them rather than seeking to draw attention or accolades for our efforts. Our focus should remain steadfastly on uplifting the voices and experiences of marginalized communities in our efforts to enhance the workplace. By stepping back and allowing these voices to lead, we can demonstrate an understanding that true allyship is not about being in the spotlight but about supporting others to shine. This approach is not just about individual actions or words but about contributing to a larger movement that seeks to dismantle systemic barriers and foster a society where DEIA and industrial-organizational psychology are not just ideals but lived realities. It is critical to how we leverage research and data to understanding the science of human behaviors in the workplace. THAT is how we move toward more psychologically safe workplaces.

In this last quarterly round-up for the year, I encourage every Human Capital or I-O psychology practitioner to go back to the drawing board and question the moral compass of your why. What is it that led you into the field? What sits at the surface of your purpose as an I-O? Does your work prioritize the organization or the people who serve the organization? Does being an I-O psychology practitioner mean that you are an ally for the workforce or an accomplice? What is your duty in combating the psychological insecurities marginalized groups experience in the workplace?

2023 3rd Quarter Update

The third quarter of  2023 brought a jam-packed summer with meaningful conversations on psychological safety through SIOP’s Work Smart series, notable research, and intriguing workplace findings on how organizational culture impacts psychological safety.

The American Psychological Association (APA) released the results from their Work in America survey, which revealed insights about employees' experiences in the workplace that inform how we understand psychological safety. 

Approximately 77% of workers mentioned they experienced work-related stress from research, including a lack of motivation to perform at their best, self-withdrawal, and not feeling effective in their roles. Less than 50% of those respondents mentioned that breaks, time off, or attention to mental health are encouraged in their workplace cultures. The survey found that at least 22% of workers experienced toxic environments that negatively impacted their mental health and increased feelings of fear in the workplace. Factors contributing to toxic work environments include experiencing or witnessing discrimination, verbal abuse, harassment, or a lack of organizational justice. 

The United States Surgeon General also shared an advisory on a growing epidemic of loneliness at work, with 62% of individuals experiencing loneliness in the workplace. Some factors that tied into these experiences related to feelings of belonging, the space for learning, and the inability to be authentic in the workplace. 

These findings help us better understand Timothy R. Clark’s four stages of psychological safety, in which the sense of insecurity and fear to prioritize one’s well-being can impact feelings of belonging, the learning experience, the ability to innovate, and the courage to challenge workplace issues.  A research study on workplace learning cultures in the medical sector also found that psychological safety being impacted this way limits how employees speak up and negatively affects how employees serve clients, patients, and end users. Research also found that when psychological safety decreases in this sense, turnover intentions increase. 

In August, I had the opportunity to facilitate SIOP’s Work Smart Series workshop with Dr. Charles Handler, Dr. Ludmila Paslova, and Dr. Filipa de Almeida about the effect of artificial intelligence (AI) on psychological safety in the workplace, which I previously spoke about in my Q1 roundup. During the workshop, we dove deep into an evidence-based and practical understanding of psychological safety and artificial intelligence and how they inform the employee experience. The takeaways were as follows:

  • Organizations should foster a culture of transparency and trust in how AI is used and how it could enhance the employee experience rather than hinder it. 
  • Collecting and actively addressing employee feedback on their experiences ensures that AI  implementation strategies are inclusive of their thoughts and sentiments.
  • Leveraging AI in the workplace also requires organizations to be mindful of how artificial intelligence may inhibit equity, belonging, and inclusion, especially for employees in marginalized groups. 

As we move into Q4, these findings require intentionality from I/O psychology and human capital practitioners in bridging organizational research and strategy to foster healthier work environments that welcome authenticity, self-care, inclusion, and equity.

2023 2nd Quarter Update

2023’s Second Quarter brought an end to the COVID-19 Pandemic as declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and an era transition from The Great Resignation to The Great Stay.

This quarter amplified conversations surrounding Neurodiversity in April and Mental Health in May. Many also celebrated and recognized the experiences and contributions of various groups, including Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, along with Pride Month, Caribbean Heritage Month, and Juneteenth in June.

How does all of this tie into psychological safety in the workplace, and what does it mean for I-O practitioners?

Workplace safety informs psychological safety. As the global public health emergency comes to an end, I-O practitioners should work with organizations to partner with their workforce in fostering a culture where health and safety are a priority. Employees should be assured that their shared experiences, insights, and concerns regarding workplace safety, even in the post-pandemic era, are valued and being addressed. Data and insight from the pandemic era should still serve as lessons learned to inform intentional strategies toward employee safety and wellness. As Luis Caldo expressed at the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) listening session in June, employee safety, especially psychological safety, should not be a benefit but a human right extended to all.


Shifting narratives surrounding differing abilities and mental health enhances psychological safety. Many can identify with having experienced workplace stress or burnout, yet not voicing those concerns out of fear of their ability to perform in the workplace being perceived negatively. A review of insights from Forbes’ 100 Best Companies to Work For found that prioritizing strategies such as mental health support systems, health and wellness training, work-life integration benefits, and meeting employee feedback with more empathy and action instead of judgment and resistance made employees more comfortable voicing their workplace needs. For I-O practitioners, this means partnering with relevant stakeholders to review and update workplace policies and practices that prioritize mental wellness and accessibility and proactively respond to employee needs.

Inclusion safety precedes psychological safety. When employees experience an organizational culture where they are accepted and welcomed without bias or prejudice, they understand that in their authenticity, their contributions are valuable. Boutwell and Smith proposed an inclusive leadership model that leverages organizational learning to drive and implement cultural shifts toward one that values inclusion, awareness, and psychological safety as priorities toward achieving employee well-being. For I-O practitioners, this means going beyond monthly observances and working with organizational leaders to leverage insights from Employee/Business Resources Groups (ERGs/BRGs), recurring employee pulse surveys, organizational analyses, and other data points to consistently amplify and recognize employee experiences, challenges, barriers, and contributions year-round.

The Great Stay DOES NOT equal psychological safety. We see how Quiet Quitting and the Great Resignation over the past few years revealed employee frustrations with their workplaces challenging organizations to respond with promises of a variety of benefits. This does not end here. As previously mentioned, employee feedback, research, and data are key for I-O practitioners to support organizations in proactively fostering a culture of psychological safety. This looks like inclusive workplaces encouraging team creativity through shared leadership or facilitating organizational learning and active engagement in knowledge sharing.

2023 1st Quarter Update

I am sure that we are all familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, which refers to the factors that human beings require to achieve their optimal state of self-actualization. Safety and security sit at the foundation of the mix, which explores the tangible and intangible protections against accidents or harm. Amy Edmonson coined the term "psychological safety," which is "a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team Is safe for interpersonal risk-taking."

We entered 2023 understanding the value of diversity and inclusion in fostering psychological safety. In Q1, research explored how psychological safety supports an innovative workplace where employees can freely contribute ideas and feedback. In the news, ChatGPT and artificial technology are the talk of the town and can lend insight into how fostering psychological safety can encourage employees to leverage these tools for creativity and ideation while still contributing value to their organization. What also persists, however, is mass layoffs and their effects on employee psychological safety.

As different organizations continue to announce reductions-in-force, the lack of job security is impacting employees’ willingness to take risks in the workplace and contribute to an innovative culture. At Google, specifically, employees expressed concerns regarding their observations that even high performers were impacted. Google executives argue that psychological safety is separate from and does not equal job security, but psychological safety is a feeling that the employee determines, not a tangible item that the organization hands out. The “last in – first out” principle of layoffs does not solely determine who gets let go. From the perspective of Google employees, being a “disrupter” appears to be part of the mix.

Google and other large corporations are not alone in their layoffs. For organizational leaders and I-O psychology consultants (internal and external), it is worth considering how these moments of uncertainty can be better managed so that it does not impact the employee experience. Even for organizations not facing these challenges, this begs for proactive consideration as to how they can assure their workforce that they are still safe to thrive, innovate and contribute value. Even if they are not [yet] directly impacted, employees can still be overwhelmed by their observations of what their peers in other companies face.

As we move into Q2 of 2023, organizations and I-O psychologists should continue exploring how psychological safety can be integrated, not separated from, other aspects of the workplace, even during times of uncertainty.  

Champion: Juliette Nelson

Dr. Juliette Nelson is an I-O Psychologist, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE®), published author, and entrepreneur with experience in program/project management, data collection/analytics, and implementing solutions to foster employee psychological safety, engagement, and performance. In her role as a Personnel Research Psychologist for the federal government, she is responsible for developing competency models and assessments to support employee learning and development. She also collaborates with cross-functional groups to leverage research and evidence-based and data-driven strategies to increase employee engagement, decrease turnover, and foster DEIA. As an entrepreneur, she produces services and products that encourage people to be purposeful in the different areas of their lives. Her life's work is all about ensuring that people have a safe space in which they can thrive and be their best authentic selves.