Psychological safety—the belief that it is safe to speak up—is vital amid uncertainty, but its relationship to feeling heard is not well understood.
The aims of this study were (a) to measure feeling heard and (b) to assess how psychological safety and feeling heard relate to one another as well as to burnout, worsening burnout, and adaptation during uncertainty.
We conducted a cross-sectional survey of emergency department staff and clinicians (response rate = 52%; analytic N = 241) in July 2020. The survey measured psychological safety, feeling heard, overall burnout, worsening burnout, and perceived process adaptation during the COVID-19 crisis. We assessed descriptive statistics and construct measurement properties, and we assessed relationships among the variables using generalized structural equation modeling.
Psychological safety and feeling heard demonstrated acceptable measurement properties and were correlated at r = .54. Levels of feeling heard were lower on average than psychological safety. Psychological safety and feeling heard were both statistically significantly associated with lower burnout and greater process adaptation. Only psychological safety exhibited a statistically significant relationship with less worsening burnout during crisis. We found evidence that feeling heard mediates psychological safety’s relationship to burnout and process adaptation.
Psychological safety is important but not sufficient for feeling heard. Feeling heard may help mitigate burnout and enable adaptation during uncertainty.
For health care leaders, expanding beyond psychological safety to also establish a feeling of being heard may further reduce burnout and improve care processes.