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In a recent article in SHRM’s HR magazine, Dori Meinert asked, “Do you have a workplace culture of fear?”  I hope that answer is no, but I also wonder if most people even truly realize whether it is or not.

A friend of mine was working in an organization that was lauded with being a best place to work, known to be a very difficult place to get an interview, where job openings were only a small percentage compared to applications received; yet, my friend went to work everyday feeling significant pressure to produce, dreaded going in to work, and didn’t feel she had anyone in her office she could discuss this with.  She was ready to walk out the door of this very reputable organization.

Do you feel this way?  Do your employees?

As an employee, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you feel comfortable talking to your supervisor about ideas, improvements, or concerns?
  • Do you trust your supervisor?
  • Are you treated with respect?
  • Are you able to do what you do best every day?
  • Does your supervisor truly listen to your ideas and concerns?
  • Are you performing at your best?
  • Are you fearful of losing your position on a regular basis?  Are your fears based on facts?
  • Do you look forward to going to work?

As a business owner or manager, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do employees speak up in meetings – with concerns and ideas?
  • Do you do what you do best every day?
  • Do you know what your employees do best?  (if yes, how do you know?)
  • Do you listen to the concerns or ideas of your team members?  Do you provide information to answer their concerns or address why their ideas may or may not be implemented?
  • Do you provide frequent recognition for a job well done?
  • Do you share information that will help your employees learn and grow

If the answer to these questions are yes, you and your organization have likely created a culture of communication and trust. If most answers are no, you might have a culture of fear.  This fear might permeate throughout the organization, or it could reside within a department or location.

What do you do if you are working within this culture of fear?

  1. It might be time to move on; it could be in a different department or location, but it might be the entire organization. If you find you need to make this move, please share your experiences with the owner, a manager, or human resources.  What might seem obvious to you, might not be realized by others, and your information could be helpful to those who stay.
  1. Start asking questions. Are the fears justified or are you making assumptions?  If you are not comfortable speaking up in a meeting or group setting, have a one-on-one with someone in the organization whom you trust or respect.
  1. Does your organization have a hotline? A suggestion box? A safe person you can go to for concerns?  If so, use it!

In her article, Meinert refers to the book The Psychology of Fear in Organizations by Sheila Keegan.    “At the end of the day,”  Keegan says, “the more we can trust each other and work together, the more effective we are going to be”.  True, but this may be easier said than done.  I believe we each have to take responsibility for our culture. Whether we are employees, managers, or owners, we owe each other respect, an ear for listening, and the opportunity to do what we do best.

My friend finally went to HR and was almost immediately transferred to a new position where she is thriving.  She truly believes she is in a top notch organization and she shared her concerns about her fears.  Did they have a culture of fear?   I don’t know, but I know for sure it was real for her. I’m not completely sure why the culture wasn’t working for her or if anything changed in that department, but she did what was right for her and the organization.  She is now doing what she does best, and the organization and its customers are benefiting from that.

JoDee Curtis
JoDee Curtis
JoDee Curtis is the Founder of Purple Ink, author of several books in the JoyPowered® series, and co-host of The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast. She has a passion for helping organizations and individuals discover their talents, do more of what they do well through her speaking and training, and find joy in their work.

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