The role of psychological safety in digital transformation

The pandemic has fundamentally and permanently changed workplace conditions and working from home has gone from an occasional practice to everyday reality. Organizations around the globe were forced to move their employees to their home offices practically overnight. Digitalization quickly became a household term and some companies thought they would have it covered once they had purchased enough laptops and Zoom user licenses. Soon they realized that it was just the first step in a long journey and that the pandemic has created many more complex challenges.

One of such challenges – unimaginable in the times prior to the pandemic – was unveiled by a study carried out by the US research and consultancy firm Gallup. Gallup research found that 48 percent of US employees are looking to change jobs. A Slovenian survey is likely to yield similar results, which means that a large proportion of your workforce is actively searching for new opportunities. Regrettably, there’s no quick fix for the problem, and it is certainly going to take much more than replacing Skype for Business with Teams.

Psychological safety

Experts say that the main reason for the employees’ dissatisfaction is the lack of psychological safety at the workplace. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to offer new ideas, make comments, ask questions and express disagreements, feeling confident that no one in the team will embarrass or punish anyone else. Studies show that as much as 70 percent of all employees are unwilling to speak out and express their opinion when they notice an error or have a proposal for improvement.

In the Aristotel survey, Google researchers identified high psychological safety as the most important factor that impacted team excellence and effectiveness. The research showed that psychological safety of team members carried a higher impact than the team being composed of the most intelligent and highly capable individuals or it having the best leader.


High psychological safety supports curiosity and improves innovativeness. Individuals and teams need to believe that the team is safe for them to take risks, experiment and seek for ways to improve business operations and develop new digital products. Simply put, team members must feel confident enough to dare to challenge the existing ‘status quo’. If they don’t, they will settle for the tasks that are predictable or familiar. Of course, such team atmosphere will definitely not generate the desired quantity of bold ideas and proposals that are needed for an effective digital transformation.


Employee engagement

Edwards Deming, an eminent consultant on continual improvement of quality, wrote in his publications that the transformation is the product of collaboration of all company employees. I believe it is high time to give this thought the merit it deserves. The digital transformation is not just about detailed planning and the right strategy but also about creating and maintaining high psychological safety so that all workers can feel included and contribute their share to a successful digital transformation.

The digital transformation of the company brings about/results in multiple changes. It would even be possible to conclude that digital transformation is a recipe for employees’ growing dissatisfaction. Actually, the level of psychological safety will largely determine how this dissatisfaction and fear of change will materialize in real life – will we see a rise in the percentage of employees looking for new jobs or a rise in the share of employees who collaborate and co-create the new digital reality of the company.

The article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of Mikrocop.

Voranc Kutnik

Voranc Kutnik is an Agile Coach, partner at CorpoHub, and an advocate of collaboration, open dialog and agile mindset for ongoing adaptation to change.