Request a demo
Back to Blog

Psychological safety: We all know it improves teams, but it can boost careers, too

December 17, 2021 - 5 min read

Woman focusing on career aspirations

The past year has reinforced the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. 

Psychological safety has served as a kind of glue helping teams not only perform their best, but stay connected during what has been arguably one of the most isolating and divisive periods of modern history. In addition to being the strongest proven predictor of team effectiveness, it improves well-being, promotes job stability, and increases employee engagement. Important attributes as we navigate the shift to hybrid work.

But while its benefits for teams and organizations is well understood and documented, less attention has been paid to the ways it fosters individual career aspirations. 


We know that cultures rich in psychological safety create real benefits: people feel able to take risks, voice thoughts and concerns without fear of retribution, and freely ask for help without fear of judgement. All of this leads to impressive gains in team productivity, collaboration, and innovation. 

But what about the employees themselves? Does the emotional freedom and sense of belonging that psychological safety provides result in individual career benefits? If so, how? 

What the data say:

To answer these questions, we looked at data from nearly 10,000 BetterUp members. Our findings suggest that when employees feel as if they belong in their workplace, they are able to shift their attention and cognitive energy toward:

1) Improving performance in their current position
2) Planning for future career moves 
3) Achieving goals related to future career aspirations

  1. Higher belonging in the workplace is positively correlated (r=.72) with increased focus.

    Individuals who felt as if they belonged in their workplace reported being more able to “tune out the world around [them]” in order to accomplish tasks at hand, and reported overall higher ratings in focus.

    Belonging x Focus
  2. Higher belonging in the workplace is positively correlated (r=.74) with increased strategic planning. 

    Individuals who felt as if they belonged in their workplace reported being more able to “think about how to make the most of their future” and set actionable goals that will help them accomplish their future aspirations.

    Belonging X Strategic Planning

  3. Higher belonging in the workplace is positively correlated (r=.71) with increased goal attainment

    Individuals who felt as if they belonged in their workplace placed higher importance on their future goals and felt more capable of achieving them.

    Belonging X Goal Attainment

Why this matters:

Without the burdens of fear, anxiety, and stress, people are able to dedicate more time and cognitive energy toward developing positive attitudes and behaviors. These mindsets and behaviors help them improve their skills, visualize better outcomes, and generate greater impact. 

Work environments rich in psychological safety help employees experience both a greater sense of belonging and higher performance because they don’t fear negative consequences for challenging ideas, asking for help, or making mistakes. They are confident their teams will accept and support them, even in the face of failure. That sense of belonging reaps rich, tangible rewards. Belonging has been demonstrated to positively impact both individual success in their current roles and amplify their potential contributions to the workplace more broadly. 

According to our research, work cultures with a high sense of belonging experience a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in the risk of employee turnover. In other words, psychological safety helps people feel connected to their colleagues and excited about the possibilities of their work. 

Improving psychological safety is thus a mission-critical priority for any organization that hopes to retain their workforce and help each employee reach their full potential.  

New call-to-action
Published December 17, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

Read Next

Employee Experience
7 min read | January 15, 2021

2020 in review: How coaching topics reveal our lived experience

One of the many unique data types we have at BetterUp is anonymized and aggregated coach-provided data about what topics people talk about with their coach. It’s like a one... Read More
Employee Experience
6 min read | September 2, 2019

BetterUp Named a 2019 “Cool Vendor” in Human Capital Management: Enhancing Employee Experience by GartnerUp Your Game: A New Model for Leadership

Being recognized by Gartner as a “Cool Vendor” means a great deal to us. We believe it validates how important the employee experience is to organizational success and that... Read More
4 min read | July 27, 2021

Hybrid work puts inclusive leadership to the test

In a new era of work, inclusivity is more important. Yet, what it means to be inclusive has shifted. How do we prevent “in-group” and “out-group” dynamics? Read More
Employee Experience
7 min read | December 3, 2021

Watch your language! (It shapes company culture)

Company language and the specific words used within your company on a regular basis have a major impact on your company’s culture. Read how. Read More
Employee Experience
7 min read | December 1, 2021

Managers say men and women differ in these five areas: Is it true?

Men and women bring different things to the table. But are these differences really due to gender? The science may surprise you. Read More
Employee Experience
8 min read | December 15, 2021

Think your employees feel equally comfortable at work? Think again

Companies are embracing diversity and inclusion, but data shows that perceptions differ among minority groups about the climate of the workplace. Read More
Employee Experience
7 min read | February 3, 2022

With great power comes great … belonging?

Feeling connected to the team is a top factor for job satisfaction, but the data shows a discrepancy between managers and ICs when it comes to belonging Read More
11 min read | June 14, 2022

Your workforce is lonely. It’s hurting your business.

Connection is the biggest opportunity leaders aren’t focusing on to win talent and build adaptable and resilient organizations. Learn why addressing the connection crisis in... Read More
Employee Experience
11 min read | July 28, 2022

How to build a culture of connection with Shawn Achor and Farrell Redwine

Farrell Redwine, CHRO at Nordstrom, and author Shawn Achor explain how connection fuels performance, boosts well-being, and retains top talent. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.