It can take time to realise that you work in a fear-based environment. Moreover, managers who manage by fear are the least to admit that they are doing so.
A fear-based workplace is a place where fear is the predominant energy, whilst a healthy workplace is one where trust is the predominant energy.
Trust and fear cannot co-exist in the same place. People who pretend they can co-exist are afraid to admit what their body knows: managerial fear overpowers trust every time.
At the end of the day, it is a simple equation. It is either the case that leaders in an organisation trust their employees, or they don’t. A fearful CEO will hire yes-men and yes-women to work for them. Anyone with a backbone will not last working for the fearful (and fear-inducing) CEO.
Confident leaders trust themselves enough to hire people they can trust. They don’t watch their employees like hawks. They don’t enact rules and policies to cover every situation, because they know their employees will rise to every challenge. They don’t measure every keystroke and every minute spent on any activity. They know that focusing on their mission and big, shared goals is a million times more important than measuring everything in sight.
So what is a sign of a workplace which is managed by fear?
1. Lots of policies and yardsticks everywhere are unmistakable signs of a fear-based workplace. Measurement of non-essential things is the first sign of a workplace ruled by fear.
2. In a fear-based workplace, everyone is focused on their daily goals. They have to be because if they miss a goal, they could lose their job. You won’t get collaboration or innovation out of people who are scared to death!
3. In a fear-based culture, managers specialise in assigning work, measuring results, punishing infractions and maintaining order. In a healthy culture, managers and HR people specialise in listening to employees, problem-solving with them, celebrating successes and envisioning even greater successes!
4. In a fear-based environment, people are afraid, to tell the truth, because they already know no one wants to hear it. How do they know this? It’s obvious, because the biggest truth of all – namely, “Our culture is horrible, but bad things happen to people who say so” is never acknowledged. It is the elephant in the room.
5. In a fear-based company, people talk incessantly about who’s up and who’s down in how things are proceeding in the company. The rumour mill is more credible than official communication. In a healthy company, managers and employees talk about sticky topics. They don’t avoid them just because they are awkward to address.
6. In a fear-based workplace, following rules and avoiding blame are everyone’s top priorities. Collaborating, experimenting and having fun does not make the list. If there is a company mission statement on the wall, no one cares about it: the only mission employees can focus on is “Don’t screw up!”
7. In a fear-based environment, managers talk about collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking but no one takes them seriously. You cannot get collaboration or new ideas from beaten-down employees.
8. In a fear-based workplace, the smartest and most capable employees don’t get promoted. The people who get promoted are the ones who most wholeheartedly embrace the fear-based culture.
9. In a fear-based environment, the hardest thing to do is to stay human. When you keep your sense of humour, your warmth and your confidence despite the cloud of fear, you can expect to be labelled ‘unprofessional’ or worse.
If all this strikes a chord with you and you know in your heart of hearts that all of it or most of it is true, do yourself a favour and seek help. You are doing yourself and your business no favour by managing by fear.