A fear-based workplace is where decisions and employee behavior is influenced by fear. Management in any industry, across all states, city, office buildings or warehouse environments have a choice. They may choose to remain managers doing normal things – or they can follow the path of becoming leaders. The difference is a massive change within, and many managers placed in such critical positions are unaware of the real difference. A fear-based workplace focuses on production only. It asserts profits over the only resource that matters. People. Managing involves directing resources to do jobs, handle timecards, answer questions employees ask. Those mundane tasks will never equate to what true leadership requires, which is an in-depth analysis of the leader within. This sets the tone for what needs to change and/or shift before real change and connection can happen. Social and human issues refuse to be fixed by process – they require human solutions.
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Great leaders make you feel safe
“In the military they give medals to those who sacrifice themselves so others may gain, in business we give bonuses to those who are willing to sacrifice others so we may gain” – Simon Sinek
A fear-based workplace can be observed from an external entity for a day and will leave convinced. It doesn’t take long to understand and determine the way a business is being operated from a leadership perspective. The following is a dozen undeniable sings of a fear-based workplace culture that are corrosive to moral.
1. Fear-Based workplace employees constantly watch their backs
Is the boss watching? Who is taking notice what my production is today? What will happen if I don’t? The focus is placed strictly on output, quotas and time spent down to the second. These employees are gawked at like prey every day and are constantly on edge. They find multiple chances during breaks to relieve themselves by speaking negatively about managers and the company. They mock the broken promises through verbal communication or is falsely represented in the company’s tagline or mission statement. The lack of confidence management has for them reflects in the constant watching and sharp direction they’re given on a daily basis. When employees fear their leaders, they don’t trust their own work and are in a constant state of worry.
2. The fear-based workplace is performance improvement over recognition
Performance improvement plans (PIP) are a shameful documentation of disobedience and highlights the shortcomings of an organization’s workforce. If the chance to get on a PIP is easy and there’s no sound performance appraisal program, resentment can build exponentially. If an employee’s value is undermined by mistakes and lack of production, the motivation to succeed is buried under the weight of fear and lack of confidence. Showing employees recognition for their strengths is always a testament to well-defined leadership.
3. The fear-based workplace spreads rumors & hearsay
One of the most damaging acts of damaging employee moral is the spread of rumors and hearsay, true or false in nature. If important information is communicated among employees before management can address the team, a bad case of the rumor and hearsay bug has hit. Any information regarding the state of business, direction of the company, possible company downsizing and anything relating to coverage and salaries should always flow down from management to their respective departments. Withholding information from employees will lead to more leaked rumors containing traces of truth and things will spread out of control. Holding information and delaying its delivery is a recipe for creating panic and fear across the organization.
4. The fear-based culture promotes through bias
The idea someone is qualified and more than capable simply isn’t enough in a fear-based environment. Promotions and high-level roles are filled by those who have prior friendships and biased relationships with those currently in power. They’re blind to the full analysis of their capabilities and ability to contribute. Those in power wish to be recognized by their bosses, so they convince them to take a gamble on their prospects. The core of the issue now is when they underperform and are deemed failures, the fact is hidden to preserve ego. If they admit their suggestion was wrong and fail to practice humility exposing themselves, they look bad. They seem incompetent. Meanwhile, the employees, customers and organization suffer. This is especially true when tracks are covered, and secrets are hoarded to protect something doomed from the start. A recipe for the worst type of leadership is combining bias with power.
5. The fear-based culture condemns the truth
When things are running well, managers are praised for their efforts. It’s up to them to communicate that praise with those under them. If the tides turn and things run behind schedule, who accepts responsibility and who passes it along to those who follow them? The idea is to accept reasonability as a leader. Those who blame employees under them on a consistent basis are only illegible for being recognized as a manager – at best. When employees know and secretly share the truth they find among themselves – not directly to their supervisors – fear is existent within the culture. The only way an organization can breath healthy air is through transparent and authentic communication.
6. Fear-based workplace loyalty is non-existent
When employees are dissatisfied with their jobs they tend to look elsewhere. Depending on the industry they’re in and how often the company downsizes – opposed to seeking better solutions – determines how often they hit the online job boards. An employee in constant fear of layoffs and corporate downsizing are never comfortable. Employees always know they’re jobs can be taken away at any moment. The false idea the industry they work in and nature of the work dictates the normalcy and rate of downsizing.
Layoffs will DESTROY TRUST
The truth is true leaders explore alternate solutions to firing due to lack of work and/or funding. They explore all possibilities. Managers do what they’re told, explore the path of least resistance and fire at will. Saving money trumps the human relationships they’re responsible for creating and maintaining. If an organization undergoes several massive downsizes in relatively short amount of periods employee moral drops dramatically – and no, it will never be forgotten. Time only heals the immediate consequences of actions. It never fully cures the hesitations and fears of workplace. The rumors will only have more material to grasp at.
7. The fear-based workplace loves policies & procedures
The more policies and procedures set in place the more fear can spread and influence. The iron fist of neatly formatted documents is what some believe to be true communication. Sure, policies and procedures have their use – but not when it comes to dealing with people. Effective communication and solutions given to the employees that make things work must be the only company policy.
8. Fear-based workplace employees are not motivated
Clock in. Work. Clock out. The job gets done, sure, but what about stretching the opportunity to explore the value employees offer? Too often the fear-based company will lean on policy and procedure and disciplinary actions that degrade us as adults. No matter the position within the company, we all have an equal contribution to make. Chipping in comes from experience, and life offers an abundance of it. We all have separate and equally important skill sets. To go from unmotivated to motivated managers must transform into leaders and combine the abilities of their employees to form a super team. This is all brought to you by trust. Untapped potential and boring work schedules lead to average work and predictable outcomes. Like cooking chicken with only salt, there’s no spice, only edible food. Add trust and the result will be dramatically different.
Employee retention is how continuity and effective output is created. When managers bash forward thinking and shun the idea of innovation, employees will flower somewhere else. As human beings we crave opportunities and respect in a workplace that values our many contributions. The only way to cultivate higher retention rates is to treat employees in way that no other organization ever has, or ever will.
10. The fear-based workplace neglects the work-life balance
Retention rates often have much more to do with things other than money. Benefits and the mighty work-life balance play a major role in retention and overall employee happiness. When an organization frowns on employees not being bothered after working hours and expects demanding weekend hours, the weight of the expectations will wear them down. Allowing workers to enjoy a fair work-life balance let them know the company cares about them as people and understands they have a life outside the workplace. Whenever that line is crossed, the employee will slowly build enough resentment up overtime to leave or become disgruntled, leading to more dysfunction.
11. The fear-based workplace discourages growth
Managers and leaders are only as good as the employees that embody the work. When employees show potential in other areas of the organization yet are constantly regarded as machines and simple laborers, operations are affected. Some may enjoy the role they have been assigned and may even embrace it. Others wish to explore more areas of opportunity and skillsets. Fear within the workplace discourages the idea of doing something different and even worse, may punish the notion of opportunity beyond what is being asked. The best way to discover these aspirations is to conduct performance appraisals, making growth and opportunities a key area of discussion.
12. The fear-based workplace suffocates innovation
Are things the same and it seems that growth is far beyond both short- and long-term accomplishments? Are customers unhappy with the normal and even challenge the organization to try something new? While working within the walls of a fear-based workplace, it can be relatively simple to spot the major indicators of lack of innovation. In order to innovate, a company must new methods and generate new ideas. Relying on stale policies and procedures that haven’t been updated for years is counterproductive. When ideas and decisions are always made by the same select few, how can change be cultivated?
13. Fear-based Companies avoid challenges
When challenges arise, the fear of change sets in. When organizations are comfortable with the normal and enjoy the fear instilled their workforce, they don’t welcome change. Challenges come in many forms including new customers, new services and dealing with diverse workforces. When things become complicated, they tend to head in the opposite direction and want nothing to do with it. Signs of this include experiencing plateaued revenue, stunted growth, and leadership styles that more enforcing than encouraging. Every industry is subjected to change. The companies and organizations that embrace it are the ones that grow and contain leadership that support the associated challenges.
Fear has no place in organizations that embrace change and growth opportunities. The greatest asset to any company, enterprise, corporation, and business entity is people. It is the people that band together to create teams, and teams that show up to the important work. Mangers organize those efforts and great leaders oversee challenges and inspire followers to give it their all. Fear is based on repercussions for what may happen if the status quo is challenged and gives human beings little to no room for error. It is the exact opposite of trust and the power that it holds. The more trust that’s given to the front-line worker, the more productivity. The more productivity leaves the result open for just about anything.
Ronnie Lee Roberts II is a brand and marketing super fan and owner & operator of Roberts Consulting Firm. He identifies the strengths of businesses of all sizes and is a curator of their message to current and future customers. He writes about marketing, leadership and business while offering an arsenal of digital marketing services in the United States.