In a previous post we left you with two very engaged characters, the crowd and the players. Each character was engaged in the game for very different reasons. The crowd was engaged because, “The game is on the line. Someone could lose.” When we asked the players they said they were engaged “Because we know we can win.”

While both parties are engaged in the outcome of the game there is a significant distinction. One is engagement through fear and the other is engagement through hope.

For all intents and purposes the statement by our member of the crowd is 100% true. The game is on the line and someone is, in fact, going to lose the game. That is an inescapable fact. That’s why they keep score.

Fear, by definition, is an emotional response that creates stress and anxiety. Psychologist, Melanie Greenburg, Ph.D. says in this article from Forbes that a fearful work environment can cause people to become survivor oriented. Yes, your employee may show results in the short term and have the appearance of engagement, but it will take a massive toll on long-term productivity. Over time fear-engaged employees will stop thinking about the survival of the company or the team and begin to think about their own self-preservation. How many times have you seen someone close their eyes during a scary scene in a movie, or change the channel because they “Can’t take it.”

This type of thinking dampens creativity because it reduces the willingness to take risk or step outside the box. Stress and anxiety over the safety of their jobs will begin to wear on their stamina causing higher burn out rates. Worst of all, the flight response will kick in and those employees will start looking for opportunities elsewhere, maybe even the competition.

In today’s highly competitive talent marketplace, that is the last thing you can afford if you want your company in the championship series. Here are a few ways you can wipe out the fear that is bringing down your company culture.

  1. Celebrate failure. While I’m not advocating rewarding the everyday human error, we have all laid plans before that haven’t worked out. Many times someone on your team can become caged by fear when a failed idea has cost the company money, reputation, opportunity, etc. But there is always a silver lining. In the workplace, maybe this failure showed a weakness in your processes or exposed a flaw in your business model. These little errors are the lemonade after the lemons. If you celebrate it correctly, there is a double benefit. Leadership has the chance to brush away the fear of failure from the individual AND send a message to the entire company that responsible risk-taking is acceptable.
  2. Communicate the present. As leaders we spend a great deal of time talking about where we would like to be or where we are headed in the future. Sometimes people are curious about the here-and-now. Constant talk of the future can leave a lot of holes in the present and can create a massive shroud of the unknown in its wake. That can be scary to a lot of people). Tell your employees how you’re doing right now and be proud of it, even if the numbers aren’t exactly where they should be. This will give people context and re-connect them to something larger than themselves allowing them to move forward with the right understanding of your business.
  3. Climb out of your hole. The team manager doesn’t sit in a booth and call in plays over the radio. He stands at the entrance and communicates with every player in the dugout, sometimes, without saying a word. Visibility can speak volumes. If there is fear spreading through your culture, knocking on a few doors and communicating directly can inspire the confidence your people need.

Fear can easily mimic the activities of an engaged employee, but the real result will eventually rear its ugly head. Take note of how your players are acting on the field. Are they focused on their strengths, ready to meet the competition head-on? Or are they frozen in fear, just trying to make it till the end of the game without blowing a gasket?

Tell us how you earned it this week. What tactics do you use to combat fear in your office?