Four signs your workplace is ruled by fear

A fearful workplace is not happy or healthy. Therefore, it is not productive. We know this. We also know that a healthy workplace is a productive one, and a happy one to boot.

Four signs your workplace is ruled by fear

A fearful workplace is not happy or healthy. Therefore, it is not productive. We know this. We also know that a healthy workplace is a productive one, and a happy one to boot. It is flexible, resilient, empowering, and it is governed by openness, honesty, and trust.

Furthermore, we know what we should be doing as leaders to foster such a positive, safe workplace environment in which our people can flourish. First, however, we need to know the warning signs, those red flags that warn us that it’s time to take action before it takes hold and becomes ingrained in the culture.

#1 Yes-men and Yes-women. 

When we were young, we heard the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes. A tale where people were too scared to tell their leader that he was running around town naked. It’s not a position we want to be in ourselves. Yet, it is exactly the position we will be in if we always hire like-minded people who are too afraid to tell you that your idea is pretty rubbish. 

Ask yourself, and your ego, if you are surrounding yourself with yes-men and women. Do people always agree with you? Is there accountability? Creativity?

Diversity of thought, experience, attitude bring so much to the table. As a leader, it is your job to ask the questions, gather all the information and use it to make better decisions. If you only have one tunnel-visioned collective viewpoint, how can you grow? 

And if you do not trust the people that you have hired, why the heck have you hired them? Just to agree with you? Today’s business model is one with agility and resilience at its core, the pandemic has taught us that, and you cannot have this without trust. In turn, trust cannot live side-by-side with fear.

#2 Numbers rule.

Numbers matter. As do boundaries. But when numbers become the obsession, measuring weekly, daily even, it is time to step back and reflect. The numbers are just one element of measurement, they help people understand what is required of them, where they fit in the business and how they can contribute. 

But people are about much more than numbers. They cannot be measured on the fact that they stay later in the office than anyone else (another sign to keep an eye out for, by the way). They are complex, creative and the breathing soul of your business. Do not forget their power. 

Invest in your people, give them the right culture and environment to do great things. Allow them the freedom to pursue projects outside of their main job description, encourage light-bulb moments and don’t punish water-cooler moments. 

#3 Information is power.

We all have heard of the saying ‘knowledge is power’. As I have already said, I wholeheartedly agree that information from diverse sources makes leaders better at what they do, taking in broader perspectives in order to evolve. 

However, the hoarding of information, keeping things to yourself to make yourself feel in control and a give yourself a sense of power stems from fear. A culture which allows people to do this is not one that will innovate and grow. And a leadership team which makes all its decisions in secret, keeping people in the dark and drip-feeding information as it suits them, only goes to justify their own existence, no one else’s.

If you have news, good or bad, share it. Be open. Be honest. Communicate. You don’t have to always have the answers but keeping people in the dark will only foster the fear.

#4 It’s oh so quiet.

Ever stepped into a silent office? It’s eery. Everyone has their heads down. No one is smiling. No one is sharing tales of the weekend in the breakout area. I get it. Sometimes, a quiet office is required but not all the time, every time. And if there is laughter, is it a genuine chuckle or a canned laughter to appease a senior member of the team?

Fear shuts down people’s ability to be passionate and creative. It focuses on getting through the day and that is no way to run a business. Not a productive, forward-thinking one that will be sustainable in the future, anyway.

If you have a great workplace, the energy is evident as soon as you walk through the door. If you create a place people want to work, it will be obvious, to everyone, even in silent times. So, add a little fun, be human, kick back a little. 

As leaders, we know that incredible people can do incredible things. We also know that a trust-based culture is one that will empower people to achieve this, making the business a sustainable entity for the future. What is more, we know that fear in our companies is detrimental to that end game. But fear is much easier to manage, a bad habit that has just happened over time, it’s not your fault, after all. There is no excuse. A good leader knows that their role is to inspire people to blossom and that the key is trust. 

Joanna Swash
Joanna Swash

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