Scary shadow image made by normal handI love and adore October, not only because it’s my birthday month, but also because, well … Halloween. There are plenty of opportunities to experience the thrill of fear – if you’re into that sort of thing – whether it be by watching horror movies, visiting haunted houses, or dressing up in menacing costumes.

For many, purposely being scared and then feeling a rush of relief when it’s over is the best part of the Halloween experience. But getting spooked and living with fear should never be a part of your experience in the workplace. Let’s take a look at what makes workers feel scared, what fear-based work environments look like, and what you can do to change the company culture.


Why Fear at Work?

Unfortunately, most of us have dealt with plenty of scary situations in the workplace. Perhaps it was because a terrifying boss regularly yelled at or berated employees. Maybe you worked with creepy colleagues who were intimidating and combative, or maybe the atmosphere oozed with negativity and ruthless competition.

There are countless contributing factors that can make workers fearful, but here are some of the most common:

    • Change, inconsistency or ambiguity
    • Erratic work practices
    • Looming consequences for incomplete tasks or unattained goals
    • Job insecurity
    • Poor performance reviews
    • Punitive management styles
    • Public rebuking or shaming
    • Negative communication styles from colleagues, managers, bosses or top executives


Signs of a Fear-Based Workplace

How do you know if a company or organization is fear-based, besides feeling sick and on edge every time you go to work? Here are some of the typical signs:

Hyper focused on goals. Having short- and long-term goals is healthy for individuals and teams, but in a fear-based workplace, individuals are stressed and hyper-focused on daily goals. In such environments, it’s clearly understood that missed daily goals can lead to punitive measures or even the loss of your job.

Regimented HR department. In a healthy corporate culture, managers and HR personnel specialize in celebrating successes, listening to employees, problem-solving and helping individuals develop and grow. In a fear-based culture, managers and HR teams focus on assigning work, measuring results, punishing infractions and maintaining order.

Negative Communication Patterns. No one wants to hear the truth in a fear-based workplace. Employees are not encouraged to express concerns or give honest feedback, and it’s an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t openly talk about it. Employees might be there one day and gone the next, and their absence is never addressed, no matter if it was due to a firing, new job or health reasons. Rumor mills run rampant, and are often the only way employees hear about company happenings. This is because managers and leaders consistently avoid discussing sticky topics or having awkward conversations.

Job Insecurity. If you’ve ever been in an environment where employees constantly wonder if their job will still be there next week, then you’ve experienced a fear-based workplace. There’s a constant cloud of doom and suspicion hovering over workers, and it feels like every day is a survival of the fittest.

Dysfunction is king. Following rules and avoiding blame are prevalent strategies in a fear-based workplace. Forget innovation, collaboration or actually having fun with colleagues, because your primary focus will be on trying not to mess up or get out of line. And even if you’re among the smartest and most capable of employees, you’re probably not going to get promoted. Those who climb the ranks are the ones who support and perpetuate the fear-based culture.


Banish Fear, Build Trust

It is impossible to develop and nurture trust within teams, managers, and leaders if fear is a part of the culture. Simply put, if people feel unsafe, they will not achieve optimum levels of performance.

Conversely, when workers feel safe, they can focus on things like solving problems, being innovative, and finding creative solutions and strategies. That’s much better than wasting valuable energy on defending themselves or protecting their jobs.

To transform a fear-based workplace, leaders must work to change the culture. This requires courage and the willingness to implement new strategies and programs.

    • Invest in leadership training opportunities specifically designed to improve management and team-building skills.
    • Consult with industry experts who specialize in transforming fear-based work environments.
    • Implement regular team building events throughout the year.
    • Courageously examine problems with honesty and transparency.


Ready to Change?

By recognizing fear-based problems and changing bad behaviors, you can create a company committed to honest communication and better relationships. This, in turn, will allow you to reach your goals and achieve the success you deserve.

If you’re ready to keep the fear in Halloween and away from the workplace, it’s time to explore training programs that develop leaders, engage team members, and foster a positive, trust-centric workplace. Give us a call – we’re ready to help you create high-performance teams that thrive in a positive and inspiring corporate culture.


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