Does your company have a culture of fear? Here's how to spot it, why it matters, and three steps to stamp it out.
Fear can be a factor in the success or failure of your business. Employees who react in fear are often responding to some common beliefs, such as that they are not valuable to the work, might lose their job or are disappointing people at work. Organizations using fear to motivate their employees create an atmosphere where their workers only feel safe when they are falling in line with the behaviors the leadership directs of them.
These internal and external fear behaviors do not reinforce creativity, engagement or innovation. Instead of feeling value within the company, employees feel rewarded for following the directives of the leaders, which also reduces the use of critical thinking skills.
Fear reduction is an essential step in creating a company culture of openness and ideas. Dr. W. Edwards Deming's 14 Points, initially presented in his book "Out of the Crisis," state that when you reduce fear, you increase stability in a way that makes for a more productive workplace.
Reducing fear is particularly vital for this new generation of employees who value mentoring and collaboration as part of the workplace culture. This generation is responding to the effects of a social era that supports the need for a shared purpose, encouraging individuality along with collaborative work.
The first step toward reducing fear in the workplace is to identify that fear behaviors exist. A recent Recruiter article identified some typical activities that indicate your organization is managing in a fear-based model. These activities include employees fleeing your company, exit interviews that indicate limited support by managers, managers not reporting difficulties at work, unclear goals, and poor feedback. Companies with these elements may have a high level of fear-driven management.
You can incorporate these behaviors into your company to give your employees a sense of control and reduce fear in your culture.
1. Respond instead of reacting.
A common behavior when presented with a challenge is to let your emotions drive the situation. We all have a fight-or-flight reaction when we feel unsafe. Incorporate a technique into your workplace culture that will help you take a moment to respond instead of reacting. One method is to request that everyone stop for one minute and write out possible solutions before having a discussion. Take all the replies and put them on a whiteboard to look at the pros and cons of the possible responses. Remind everyone that there is no wrong or right response and that all responses need to be considered. Remind everyone that this is a team event, not a fight for who is right. A responsive solution may take a little more time in the beginning, but it can save you the hours of cleanup for a reactive action to the challenge.
2. Build trust.
Building trust takes time. It is not usually a one-time event. You can build trust by maintaining authentic interactions during daily work activities. One highly effective way to build trust is to make sure that verbal commitments and behaviors match the actions. For example, if your company identifies in the mission that the organization is a friendly or caring place, then employees would want to exemplify this behavior as a measure of the authenticity of the individual. Or an employee who commits to completing a task at a particular time would want to either complete the work on time or communicate the change in timelines. When you give employees a culture that maintains trust, you reduce fractures to the organization. Leaders who exhibit an authentic alignment of words to actions give employees a place where they can focus on the work instead of the breakdowns in behaviors.
3. Maintain a process.
A process offers employees a roadmap for what they need to do, how they need to do it, and when it should be done. You reduce fear at work when employees have this process-driven roadmap in place to monitor workloads and timelines. The process provides an organized sense of movement that gives constant feedback and accountability of individuals for each part of the project. Many organizations use visual representations of this process through project management systems such as Microsoft Project or Smartsheet. These tools can help with a visual map of the workload.
As our world changes, effective fear management becomes an asset to the success of your organization. You create an organization that offers not only employees but also consumers a place where they can connect and find inclusion in this expanding era of change.