Psychological safety in the workplace: Challenges and strategies

Challenges for psychological safety in the world of work

In today's fast-paced working world, the importance of mental health is constantly increasing. Studies show that employees whose general well-being is supported by employers are significantly more satisfied and committed. According to a recent survey conducted by Gallup in 2023, these employees are:

  • 69% less likely to be looking for a job,
  • 71% less likely to suffer from burnout,
  • 36 % happier in their lives,
  • three times more engaged at work and
  • five times more likely to recommend their employer and trust its leadership.

Despite these positive effects, 53% of employees and 48% of managers report an increase in stress and burnout, according to Deloitte.

The Floating Duck Syndrome

Floating duck syndrome, originally coined at Stanford University, describes the phenomenon of individuals who appear calm on the outside while struggling internally to meet the demands of everyday life. These sufferers often take on more tasks than they can handle and do not receive the recognition they deserve and desire. This often leads to burnout, anxiety and other health problems.

Causes and effects

This behaviour often results from a distorted social learning dynamic where individuals emphasise their successes and hide the effort involved. This can create unrealistic expectations in others and lead to excessive demands and self-doubt. The affected employees feel isolated and insecure, which puts further strain on their mental health.

Measures for companies

To counteract this, it makes sense to promote psychological safety and thus a culture of openness and learning. This encourages employees to share their challenges openly and learn from them without fear of negative consequences.

A few ideas on how to promote this: 

Vulnerability of managers
Honest team exchange rounds
Events on error culture
Share and learn from failures
Promoting self-care and resilience

Advantages of psychological safety

Psychological safety in the workplace brings numerous benefits. Employees are willing to take risks and suggest new ideas, which leads to a more dynamic and successful organization. They feel safe to voice their opinions, questions and concerns and tend to be more creative and innovative.  In addition, a culture of openness and support leads to higher employee satisfaction and lower turnover.


The Floating Duck Syndrome highlights the need to take mental health in the workplace seriously and take proactive steps to support employees.

By creating a supportive and transparent working environment and providing team safety, companies can improve the wellbeing and success of teams within their organization and contribute to long-term success. This in turn has a positive economic impact.



Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends, 2024
Gallup State of the Global Workplace Report, 2023
Stanford University Student Affairs. (2022). In focus: Don't be a duck! how to resist the stanford duck syndrome. [Accessed: 2023-07-31]. studentaffairs.

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Annalena Löscher
Annalena Löscher
Senior Associate
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