Fear and Loathing at Work

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Too many organizations, even today, allow a culture of threats and fear to hover over the people like a dark cloud. The threats can be direct or subtle. The sense of fear can creep into one’s soul and ruin what could be a meaningful career. A culture of fear can develop over time and before you know it, a toxic environment exists and then it becomes hard to get rid of. Just a few subtle examples follow. 

Fear Monger #1….A sales executive is holding his biweekly meeting with the entire sales team. One hundred anxious people are in the room. They are anxious because they know they are falling short on their the sales goals and the wrath of hell is about to fall on them.  And it did. He screamed, “People, we are off track! If you don’t up your game, I will fire your ass! If the numbers don’t improve, all of you will be gone and I mean it!” He went on but the damage was done. People were panicked and the blood pressure in the room shot through the roof. They left the meeting hating the leader and vowing to look for a different job.

Fear Monger #2…The manager roamed around at night when everyone was gone. She had a small pad of Post-It notes in her hand. As she roamed around she would scribble on the pad and slap the note on the computer screen of the empty workspaces. The messages on the notes said things like, “Rewrite this report ASAP” or “See me first thing!” or “This summary is a B-.” When people arrived in the morning they entered the building with dread that there would be a little yellow greeting on the computer screen. Those who saw the yellow flags in their workspace felt sick. The situation made people hate showing up, fear the manager and loathe her for ruining what could be a good job.

Fear Monger #3…As soon as he entered the building the question became, “Who is he today?” The range of possibilities went from a supportive manager to a raging maniac and everything in between. The entire building walked on eggs until the message went out that he was in a good mood. If he was in a bad mood, the day was full of trepidation of crossing paths with the one who was fuming. It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and no one knew who would appear so everyone lived in a mild sense of fear and longed for a consistent manager.

The list of fear inducing behaviors is long and can include situations like threats over following certain people on LinkedIn, to threats to assign onerous projects to threats to eliminate benefits or just the general threat of losing your job.

The research is significant in showing that stress is a killer. There is no better inducer of stress than fear. In a day when executives realize that culture drives success and boorish behavior cannot be tolerated, fear should not be a factor in any workplace. I hope none of the examples above sound familiar to you.  That’s all I have to say about that.

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