Ten Signs of a Fear-Based Workplace

Fear-based company cultures leave you feeling insecure and unsure.
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Fear makes us feel insecure in general, but at work it can be a huge de-motivator. It’s normal to feel scared when starting a job, but if your company’s culture is fear-based, it leads to a lot of inefficiencies and unhappy employees, no matter how long you've worked there.

1. Focus on Fear

    If employees focus more of their time and energy on keeping their jobs than they do on how to best serve the customer, it causes a lot of competition within a company at the expense of productivity. A shared value of focusing on the customer helps everyone feel more secure.

2. Leading with Fear

    Your supervisor points out your mistake in front of everyone at a department meeting instead of talking to you about it one-on-one. Or, she frequently uses threats, such as “If you want to keep your job, you’ll do what I say." Actions like these mean your managers leads with fear tactics, which will keep you on edge.

    Supervisors who lead with fear engender fear among their employees.

3. Tons of Rules

    All companies have policies and rules to make sure everyone's on the same page about behavioral expectations. When there are too many rules, it makes it difficult for employees to feel like management trusts them, creating an atmosphere of insecurity and fear.

4. Escalating Problems

    When co-workers constantly bring interpersonal conflicts up with the boss rather than solving problems directly, it creates an atmosphere of mistrust. You worry that the boss will think you're a problem or that someone will “tell on you” instead of handling things maturely. Solving problems directly builds trust and diminishes fear.

5. Infrequent Feedback

    If you get so little feedback from your boss that you have no idea how well you’re doing (or not doing), you might constantly second guess your decisions. Knowing how you’re doing consistently helps you know where you stand and do your job with confidence.

6. Unclear Roles

    Consistently asking “who do I talk to about that?” usually indicates that you're not clear about others' roles and responsibilities, creating doubt instead of certainty. Being clear on everyone’s roles helps improve efficiency and puts your mind at ease.

    Not being clear about roles at work can delay your work, making you feel insecure and stressed.

7. Who You Know

    Have you noticed that, more often than not, people get ahead more because of who they know than because of the good work they do? That can cause insecurity that results in co-workers creating alliances a la "Survivor," making them worry more about who they know than doing a good job. When management rewards good work for good work's sake, it helps you know where you stand.

8. The Sky Is Falling

    When the culture at work encourages people to focus on problems more than solutions, it causes people to feel panicky and stressed most of the time. Security comes when everyone focuses on how to solve problems instead of dwelling on them.

    Panicking about unexpected issues begets more panicking, creating a stressed atmosphere at work.

9. Kept in the Dark

    When there's open communication in the workplace, it builds trust and eases anxiety. But if your supervisors or co-workers don’t regularly share information that you need to do your job, you're constantly guessing and insecurity increases.

10. Atmosphere of Mistrust

    A supportive atmosphere at work means stronger unity and co-workers pulling for one another. But if you're in a fear-based culture, co-workers tend to exchange a lot of rumors and share gossip, causing mistrust and competition. A supportive atmosphere leaves the derisive gossip back in high school.

    Rumors, back-biting, gossip and cliques at work detract from unity and cause co-workers to feel insecure.

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