Luis Baring

Written by Luis Baring

SEPTEMBER 26, 2019


Do you constantly worry about losing your job, damaging your reputation, or feeling worthless and bad at what you do? Or maybe you feel like you can't voice out your opinions directly to your leaders. You might not notice it right away and you may not necessarily have a scary boss, but your workplace may have a pervading culture of fear.

Despite workplace culture evolving with our progressing society, many corporate companies still feed on fear, mostly because some leaders don't recognize or refuse to see the culture of fear in their organizations. Moreover, one of the problems is that leading by fear can work in leading and managing others. Fear is an effective motivator depending on what type of fear is present. If a leader helps his employees face their fears to encourage action, it can be considered good leadership. However, if it's used for short-term achievement, it can have damaging long-term effects.

One of these consequences is that leading by fear inhibits innovation. In a fear-based workplace, employees are reluctant to innovate because of the risk that if anything went wrong, they would be punished. This also stops teamwork and ideas-sharing, which is not good for employee engagement. When there is fear in the workplace, people stop offering their opinions and refuse to participate in engagement activities. Fear-based management only perpetuates a long-term fear which decreases morale, creativity, and growth.

A book by Amy Edmondson, The Fearless Organization, argues that fear is not a useful tool in a leader's toolkit when managing interpersonal relationships in a workplace. This is also true for employee engagement. According to Edmondson, the antidote to fear is psychological safety, and one of the organizations' primary tasks is to create that safety. A fearless workplace is one where employees feel that their opinions count. Employees should be empowered so they can flourish and create the best results for the organization and themselves. So as HR practitioners, how can we promote empowerment and psychological safety in our workplace?


1. Reframe failure as an opportunity to learn.

Promote a culture of failure in the workplace, which means constantly providing feedback to avoid making the same mistake twice. We all know success is built on great failures, so let your employees know that it's okay to make mistakes, but it's not okay to not learn from them. Give constant constructive feedback and empower employees to innovate, create, and grow.


2. Emphasize that voice is important.

Let your employees make decisions. Involve them in sharing ideas for company improvement and goals. Let them know that their thoughts and ideas have value and that the higher-ups are willing to listen and consider their opinions. An open culture builds an empowered, pressure-free work environment.


3. Remind them that what they do matters.

Won't you feel more motivated to work if you know you're valued and appreciated? Even the little, mundane tasks we do contributes to a bigger goal and purpose. Sincerely expressing appreciation for your employees' work and rewarding them for performing well (whether with promotions, raises, or even just small, gratifying team activities), can help promote empowerment in the workplace. 


All organizations should accept the notion that fear doesn't belong in the workplace. HR teams creating employee engagement programs must focus on empowering their employees to create a culture of openness and innovation—a work environment where everyone has a voice, no matter how small. 



SEPTEMBER 26, 2019

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