Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Do You Work In a Fear-based Workplace?

I just read a Bloomberg story entitled "Ten Signs You Work In a Fear-Based Workplace." It's an interesting article. Here are seven more signs I would add to the list:

1.) Seeing the problems but doing nothing. Employees are busy backstabbing each other and playing little power games but management doesn't do anything about it. Instead, management ignores the obvious no matter how bad things get. Hey, why work hard at creating a fearful atmosphere if certain employees are willing to do it for you?

2.) Pitting employees against each other. There are managers who like to create a sense of sibling rivalry between employees. One employee becomes the golden child while another employee becomes the problem child who never does anything right. They say the workplace is just like a family but sometimes it can feel a little bit too much like a real family, if you know what I mean.

3.) Putting off performance reviews. How can you know you're doing a good job if no one ever tells you? Failing to schedule performance reviews can be a not-so-subtle way for managers to keep employees guessing, and therefore more fearful about keeping their jobs. Withholding performance reviews also keeps employees from asking for a raise, which improves the department's overall bottom line and helps the manager look good to his or her boss. It's a win-win -- for everyone except rank-and-file employees, that is.

4.) Sending mixed messages. Your manager gives you a bit of "keep up the good work!" motivation (a gift card, a card with a nice message inside, a gift basket, etc.) then turns around and raises your weekly sales quota by 250%. Or the boss imposes some other seemingly-impossible metric on you (or your entire department). Are you being rewarded or are you being punished? Is the boss showing confidence in your abilities or is she setting you up to fail (and get fired)? It can be hard to tell. The uncertainty can make you feel fearful and slightly off-balance, and that may be just the way the boss wants it.

5.) Micromanaging employees to death. You call on a client who says not to worry, your boss has already taken care of everything. The problem is, the boss didn't tell you he was going to take care of everything for the client. Doesn't the boss trust you to do your job? If so, why not? The strange vibe excessive micromanaging creates leads to a growing lack of self-confidence that leads to -- you guessed it -- fear.

6.) Firing employees poorly. Employees working for a company where layoffs and firings are poorly executed can start to feel like they're in a real-life version of "Ten Little Indians" -- e.g., and then there were none. Whatever happened to Jane in the far right cubicle? She was there and now she's gone. Management isn't saying what happened to Jane. Rest assured, an employee will call Jane on the down low to get her side of the story, which will spread like wildfire around the office. The story will get embellished as it goes through the grapevine, and employees will end up feeling even more fearful than they were before.

7.) Running an office like a John Hughes movie. Let's face it: Some managers never quite leave the high school mentality behind and run their offices like an extended version of the movie The Breakfast Club, where the cool kids mock the nerds, poor kids and weirdos and don't invite them out for a beer after work. The boss is the cool kid who anoints the other cool kids. They form a clique and hang out just like real high school kids. If you're not on the cool list, be prepared to live in misery. Unfortunately, this workplace scenario is more common than reported.

I could go on and on, but these are a few things I would add to the Bloomberg story. Now go forth and play nicely with others!

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