When is psychological safety helpful? A longitudinal study

Reference

Higgins, M. C., Dobrow, S. R., Weiner, J., & Liu, H. 2022. “When is psychological safety helpful? A longitudinal study.” Academy of Management Discoveries, 8(1), 77-102.

Publication Date

January 11, 2022

Abstract

Prior research has documented many benefits associated with team-level psychological safety. However, we know little about the boundary conditions of these findings, particularly how psychological safety operates at the organization level and if and when it is helpful over time. Here, we explore how organization-level psychological safety and another aspect of workplace climate, felt accountability, impacts organizational performance over time. Our study is situated in the New York City public school system, a context rife with uncertainty and calls for change, including immense pressure on teachers to improve student outcomes. Drawing on over 170,000 survey responses from teachers in 545 schools across three years, our multilevel analyses unexpectedly show that psychological safety is not, on its own, “helpful” with regards to organizational performance over time. Indeed, the best combination occurred when psychological safety was relatively low and felt accountability was relatively high. Thus, these two dimensions of workplace climate appear to be interrelated in critical ways over time, albeit unexpectedly. We conclude with implications of our discoveries for future theory-building and research on psychological safety and felt accountability, and we propose new lines of research on the roles of interdependence and attention for studying psychological safety at the organization level.
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