To achieve flow, you have to feel free to be yourself

Many employees feel unable to show their true selves at work, and employers lose out as a result, says Guido Heezen – but organisations that invest in psychological safety will be rewarded with more engaged staff

In this era of home working and video meetings, we're revealing more of our authentic selves than ever before. Colleagues who previously wore only sharply pressed suits now appear in front of the camera in t-shirts. Pets and family members sometimes wander into view.

Before the coronavirus crisis, things were very different – employees shrugged off their identity as soon as they walked through the office door, either virtually or physically. They put on their ‘work hat’ and became focused on their role. That's not so bad, you might think. People are at work, after all. But you'd be mistaken.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety means feeling that you have the psychological freedom to do your job well. Alongside feeling free to be yourself, psychological safety is also about the extent to which a person feels able to take interpersonal risks without being afraid of the potential negative consequences. This might include giving honest feedback, admitting your mistakes or generating new ideas. These are all things that can have a negative effect on your career.

Why is it important for engagement?

Psychological safety and engagement are closely related. If you feel comfortable, you concentrate better. And if you feel safe enough to be yourself, you put more of yourself into your work and have the confidence to showcase more of your talents. It’s not surprising that research from Utrecht University shows that a sense of authenticity at work is linked to greater engagement. Employees who feel able to be themselves perform better. The Effectory benchmark also establishes a link between feeling able to be yourself, feeling safe and engagement.

In a psychologically safe team, employees do not need to worry about their status within the team. Instead, they can focus on their work. They also have more breathing space to generate ideas. Meta analyses from our employee surveys over the years show that a pleasant working atmosphere results in greater engagement.