30th June 2022

How to enhance psychological safety at work

Employees who feel accepted and respected at work are more productive. Dr. Mareike Bönigk, Head of the Psychosocial Service of the Ministry for the Civil Service, explains how to promote psychological safety at work and gives five useful tips for people who do not feel safe at their workplace.

1. What does it mean to feel psychologically safe at work and what rights do employees have in Luxembourg?

Feeling safe at work – in the psychological sense and not in the physical sense (which would be more a question of occupational health and safety) – arises from the interaction of :

  • the psychosocial risks and

  • an individual’s.

Psychosocial risks are workplace conditions that have an influence on employees' mental health. For example, the cooperation within the team, clarity about your own tasks and goals and recognition from your superior(s). The more positively these conditions are experienced, the more secure employees feel in their job.

An individual’s resilience, represents his/her competencies or strengths that help him/her cope with difficult environmental conditions. For example, is the person:

  • able to approach problems in a solution-oriented way;

  • optimistic or

  • able to build relationships with others who support them.

An individual with high resilience can deal with difficulties better, they take more things in their stride and are not as quick to label something as a problem. The latter explains why we always speak of "perceived psychological security", as this is always assessed subjectively.

EU Directive 89/391 provides the legal framework specifying that employers must ensure the safety of their employees and that they are obliged to organise the workplace in such a way that the health of employees is safeguarded. In the further discussion for this directive and its implementation in Luxembourg legislation, this principle was also extended to mental health. Occupational health management also promotes individual health care – although this remains the responsibility of the individual employee.

2. What role do communication and empathy play?

Implementation, in practice, is a management task. Once structures have been put in place that make psychological  safety at work possible, it is up to the managers to live this out via individual contact with their teams. Empathy is an important factor. An empathic leader involves his staff in the right way at the right time.

But since cooperation and mutual support are also a psychosocial resource, the same applies to colleagues. Since 2017, the psychosocial service at the Ministry of Public Service has been training staff in psychological first aid – a globally recognised approach to communicating with those who are in psychological crisis. If such principles are lived out within a company, people are able to feel safe.

3. How does the lack of psychological safety at work harm Luxembourg companies? Are there any statistics?

The statistic for Luxembourg is the Quality of Work Index which has been compiled annually since 2012 by the "Université du Luxembourg" in cooperation with the "Chambre des salariés". Based on the scientific principles, it can be assumed that psychosocial working conditions have an impact on job satisfaction, motivation and health. These, in turn, have an impact on performance and – in all likelihood – on the efficiency of companies or administrations.

4. How can leaders improve perceived psychological safety in teams?

Basically, all principles of leadership are applied here:


  • not only allow participation but encourage it;

  • keep an eye on the individual(s) and react when they detect signs of discomfort;

  • stand up for their team;

  • resolve conflicts;

  • recognise performance, even in front of others;

  • promote employees;

  • improve structures and use mistakes as a means of making improvements;

  • are interested in the content of the work without wanting to do everything themselves;

  • dare to make decisions and stand by them.

These leaders increase the perceived psychological safety of the team.

5. What five useful tips do you have for people who do not feel psychologically safe in their workplace?

5 useful tips: 

1. Confide in someone. There are specialised structures in Luxembourg that can provide you with professional advice.  

2. Analyse the exact causes of your discomfort. A self-analysis helps finding solutions.

3. Talk with your supervisor(s) about the causes, ideally proposing solutions that you have thought about in advance.

4. If things cannot be changed, develop techniques – preferably with the help of a professional – to deal with the challenges better.

5. Make sure that you look after yourself but do not leave too soon (handing in your resignation or going on sick leave). Your resilience will grow in time.

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