Is your business being stifled by fear?

A new book that explores the neuroscience of the workplace and the crippling effect of fear is sure to strike a particular chord with some LGBT employees

Psychotherapist Joan Kingsley and her book, The Fear-Free Organization


Is your business being stifled by fear?

13 August 2015

Bookstores are over-stocked with tomes on leadership and success in business, but a new publication is one of the first to concentrate on the crippling effects of fear in the workplace.

The Fear-Free Organization – Vital Insights from Neuroscience to Transform Your Business Culture is by Dr Paul Brown, Joan Kingsley and Dr Sue Patterson. It offers a convincing argument as to why provoking fear in employees is likely to stifle productivity and lead to a depressed and demoralized workforce.

The book draws upon real-life business stories and the latest research into neuroscience.

If ‘neuroscience’ sounds dry and academic, the The Fear-Free Organization is anything but. It’s a readable, accessible work that compares organizations to the human mind.

In the same way that fear will trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response in humans, fear at work will provoke similar survival tactics among employees; Instead of working on creative solutions to problems, staff will instead concentrate on coming up with excuses for missed deadlines and covering their own backs.

What sort of fear is common at work? The fear of not hitting targets; the fear of not knowing what management are doing; the fear of being thought a slacker; the fear of losing your job or status, or treated unfairly; the fear of the business going bust; the list goes on and on.

Fear in the workplace can lead to bullying, gossip, undermining behavior, hijacking tactics, behind-doors jockeying for status and favoritism. Such behaviors will inevitably have an effect on the health and emotional well-being of staff.

If that sound familiar then you could be working in work environment where fear is running rampant.

As the book explains: ‘Fear-based cultures foster short-term thinking: you become defensive, seek to avoid confrontation or reprisal and focus on eliminating any threats instead of working together to deliver shared targets and outcomes.’

So what’s the antidote?

Neuroscience informs us that feelings can be broken down into eight basic categories: fear, anger, disgust, shame, sadness and surprise prepare us to deal with danger, while on the flipside of the coin, excitement/joy and trust/love provoke attachment and growth.

Eliminating fear in the workplace requires companies generating excitement, joy, trust and love in staff. Chief among these is trust.

Although The Fear-Free Organization briefly touches upon the value of encouraging diversity at work and the business advantage of having a diverse workforce, it doesn’t, unfortunately, specifically address the fear that many LGBT people may feel at work around revealing their sexuality.

According to research by Human Rights Campaign, just over half (53%) of LGBT people in the US continue to hide who they are at work. They instead use precious energy avoiding questions about their personal life and making sure that their ‘secret’ is not revealed.

Not surprisingly, the cost to individuals in terms of happiness, security and productivity can be immense.

Approached by Gay Star Business, one of the Fear-Free Organization’s authors agrees.

‘Fear is likely to be pervading your internal world if you are working in an environment where you can’t be yourself,’ says Joan Kingsley, a Consultant Clinical and Organizational Psychotherapist.

‘It is difficult to be productive and creative at work if you have to play a role and pretend to be someone you’re not. That takes a fair amount of energy that could be put to better use.

‘Human systems, just like all systems in the world, are energy systems. The way energy is managed throughout the body and the brain has a profound effect on behavior.

‘We have two kinds of energy – physical and motivational. Motivational energy is fuelled by the emotions. If you are unable to bring your true self to work you are likely to perceive your organization as unsafe and threatening. When you are experiencing anxiety or fear most of your available emotional energy is being diverted to help you cope and survive.’

Or, as LGBT advocacy groups, Stonewall, sums it up; People perform between then they can be themselves.

Want to create a fear-free environment at work? The Fear-Free Organization offers several recommendations. Some of the chief ones are as follows:

  • Leaders are responsible for creating the climate, culture and mood within which others will either flourish or fail. They provide a sense of excitement and purpose to the organization.
  • The most important emotion to motivate people in organizations is trust; trust that they are being kept aware of what’s going on and trust in the belief that they will be treated fairly. Fear-free organizations are underpinned by honesty, openness and trust.
  • Individuals should feel welcomed and respected at work; respected as individuals who can make honest mistakes and can expect support for recovering from those mistakes. Growth, after all, comes about through trial and error.
  • People respond to certainty; when there are clear expectations, clarity and commitment to what is expected. Leaders set an organization’s direction and goals – which need to be clearly conveyed throughout the organization.

But won’t people always feel some degree of fear at work – particulary during tough economic times?

Kingsley says that although fear is ‘hard-wired’ into our brains, and serves a vital purpose when it comes to helping us avoid danger, creating a fear-free organization remains a realistic goal.

‘The fear-free organization is built on relationships of trust. It has zero tolerance for using fear to manage and motivate.

No organization can predict the dangers and disasters that inevitably happen in the external world. However, the fear-free organization creates an environment that fosters trust amongst colleagues.

‘It creates an environment where people are working together to effectively respond to challenges presented by external competition.’

The Fear-Free Organization – Vital Insights from Neuroscience to Transform Your Business Culture, by Paul Brown, Joan Kingsley and Sue Patterson, is out now via KoganPage.

Source: Is your business being stifled by fear?

Via: Google Alert for Neuroscience