Living In Fear At Work Is No Way To Live

18 May

I spoke with a friend of mine who is looking to leave her current employer. She is an outstanding employee– hard working, highly skilled in her functional area, considerate and helpful to her coworkers, and passionate about serving others.  Her direct supervisor loves her; in fact, when her supervisor learned she was being wooed by another company a couple of years ago she was persuaded to stay.

Why would someone leave a job they like with a supervisor who wants to keep them? A senior leadership team that uses fear and intimidation as their modus operandi, that’s why. Here’s what she told me:

Most people here are walking on egg shells around the CEO, who is a tyrrant. We are all scared of her irrational behavior. There are times when she intimidates people, thinking this somehow will motivate them. It does just the opposite. My boss tries to shield me from this, but the fear people feel in the office can be cut with a knife. I love what I do, but life is too short to put up with this crap.

I feel badly for my friend. She is a good employee stuck in a company run by a leader who should be supervising a Cold War Soviet gulag instead of a twenty-first century company.  Sadly, her lament is something we hear far too often from employees who weigh in via employee engagement surveys collected by our research partner Quantum Workplace. Here’s an employee offering a similar sentiment:

There is too much fear in the organization. It prevents us from making quick and decisive decisions. Form over substance is the primary guide for certain management. Heavy politics prevents success.

What a shame. What a waste of time and talent. The philosopher Sophocles said “To him who is in fear everything rustles”. Too many employees are in environments where they “rustle”, where their hearts and heads cannot be put fully to the task at hand for fear of the despot leader.

Of course, people don’t have to be managed by fear and intimidation. The companies with highly engaged employees we studied and who are profiled in Re-Engage actually work hard to minimize fear, knowing that this approach brings little long-term value to the enterprise. Contrast these feelings with the following employee, who lauds his employer for allaying fear in the midst of these more difficult economic times:

In these uncertain times the leadership of the office has gone out of its way to hold staff-wide meetings to keep us informed of how the firm is doing and what it is doing, short of layoffs, to hold down expenses, and to try, generally, to assuage the fear that is naturally going on right now.    Trusts its employees to do their respective jobs without undue interference or micromanagement.

Here’s another employee, who has chosen to stay with her employer, in part because of a leader she can trust:

I have had opportunities to leave the organization, but have chosen to stay because of the leadership of our operation and the opportunities that are afforded me and my fellow employees.  I believe leadership is honest and provide crucial information about the current state of our industry in light of the economic down turn.  This transparency has kept me here.

Bravo.

Employees don’t have to be motivated by “do-this-or-else”. Leaders who feel a need to manage by fear and intimidation are, in my view, broken. In this case of my friend, the CEO has a Napoleon complex that serves no one. It’s pathetic, really.

We’ve found employees can be motivated in so many more productive ways, such as desire to contribute to something important, a need to feel part of a productive team, or an opportunity build one’s skills and talents.  What leaders need to do is help employees find the best within them to bring out that talent.

Want to engage and re-engage employees? Stop leading with fear.

(Photo from by stuant6 on Flickr)

2 Responses to “Living In Fear At Work Is No Way To Live”

  1. Linda Dunn September 14, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    This is a wonderful recognition of an ongoing problem in the work setting. I especially love that you emphasize that there are so many better ways to motivate people than fear! As one who is walking on eggshells now…I appreciate the wisdom in this article. Thank you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Living In Fear At Work Is No Way To Live (via Engaged Employees, Remarkable Results!) « Peak Alignment - September 14, 2010

    [...] I spoke with a friend of mine who is looking to leave her current employer. She is an outstanding employee– hard working, highly skilled in her functional area, considerate and helpful to her coworkers, and passionate about serving others.  Her direct supervisor loves her; in fact, when her supervisor learned she was being wooed by another company a couple of years ago she was persuaded to stay. Why would someone leave a job they like with a sup … Read More [...]

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