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Can Fear Motivate Your Employees?

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We all know the story of young Johnny. He’s in little league and loves baseball. As young Johnny walks up to the batter’s box, he hears his coach scream out, “Now Johnny, we need this hit. You struck out the last two times up at bat. If you strike out again Johnny, I’ll have to bench you for the rest of the season!” 

Way to go, coach! That’ll get Johnny to get that hit, right? Johnny strikes out for the third time that day.  With his head hanging low, he drags his bat back to the dugout. 

Let’s fast forward. Grownup Johnny is now the lead technician at a shop that’s struggling with sales.  After another bad week, the shop owner walks over to Johnny to show him his productivity report and says, “Johnny, take a look at your productivity report for the last two months.  If you don’t get your production numbers up, you may not have a job here. So, get your numbers up or else!” 

Way to go, boss! That’ll get Johnny to get his production up, right? Johnny walks back to his toolbox, head hanging low, and feeling awful. 

Instilling fear in people to get them to improve their performance will backfire. Fear leads to increased stress and will cause your employees to become emotionally paralyzed to perform. That’s what happened with Johnny in little league. Consumed with fear, all he could focus on was striking out. Literally frozen with fear, he strikes out again. It’s no different in the workplace. Fear destroys the morale of the workplace. And, if left unchecked, will lead to lower productivity and an increase in comebacks.  Yes, comebacks. Employees that work in an environment where fear dominates their thoughts will begin to hide their mistakes. And when employees bury their mistakes, they bury the business, too. 

Let’s not confuse fear with people rallying around against a common threat to an organization or community. Take for example, the events on September 11, 2001. On that tragic day, we weren’t sure what tomorrow would bring. We were all afraid, but we were together. And united. Those emotions served to bring us together. The fear I am referring to is when managers and shop owners think that fear can be used as a strategy to boost sales and production to make up for underlying issues that are the real cause for a struggling business.  

How people feel in the workplace has a direct influence on how they perform.  And this will be a determining factor between success and failure. Employees want to feel safe in their work environment. They want to know that the boss has their back. They also closely watch how the boss reacts in times of crisis. And believe me, everyone in business will go through times of crisis and everyone is watching the boss.  If your employees see you react negatively to a crisis, they will lose faith in your ability to lead them. Not a good scenario for any boss. 

I know how hard it is to keep a smile on your face all the time. Especially when things are not going as expected. But, falling victim to your own fear and then directing your fear on to others, will only worsen the situation and lead to a further decline in business. In fact, many employees will eventually leave a toxic environment filled with fear. And the first to go will be your best employees.  

There are many reasons why fear sets into the mindset of shop owners and managers. Usually it’s because the business is not hitting on all cylinders and sometimes, we need to find blame. And all too often, it’s easier to point that blame at others than to look in the mirror and find the resolve to work through the problems. However, you need to be proactive and accept your responsibility to work through your challenges. 

No matter what the issues are, there is one thing that you can do that will make a difference in any situation; and that is to create a work environment that promotes a positive atmosphere. A place where employees want to come to work and enjoy what they do. A workplace where employees can grow and help each other as a team and achieve great things. A workplace where the employees know that the boss has their back. A workplace where employees don’t try to hide their errors but are willing to come forward to admit their mistakes and improve. Look for the good, don’t dwell on the negative. Celebrate any positive direction and make your employees feel good about their work. Be a boss that encourages others and remains strong in all situations. Remember, when people believe in their leader, the result can only be positive. 


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