This problem seems like quite an usual topic for an HR article, but in reality, fear in the work-place is a topic that all companies whether big or small should be prepared to address. Because fear is a limiting factor that may not only be preventing your employees from performing at their optimum but can also prevent your organization from reaching its potential.
But, when we talk about fear we are not talking about the blind panic that one associates with the terrified, we are talking about a specific work-place fear that can grip employees and hinder their performance, stifling creativity and innovation and causing a work-place to stagnate, and ultimately fall behind the competition. It is the one work-place fear which blue chip employers spend millions coaching and training employees on how to overcome. Have you guessed which fear we are talking about yet? Its the fear of failure. Humans are basically conditioned to fear making mistakes which means your work-force is predisposed to fear failure. In general, if left alone, most employees will take the safe option, avoid challenges and follow the path of least resistance.
The problem is that if your work-force is fear ridden they may be stifled and will be reluctant to be creative for fear of ridicule or reprisal if they fail. Your organization will fail to innovate effectively which could be detrimental to your business, because research shows (some of which can be found in this Berkeley University Article) that there is a strong positive link between innovation and productivity. The more innovative you are the more productive you will be. This is also backed up by another study reported in Forbes of the Global Innovation 1000 list which found that the more innovative companies outperformed the less innovative ones in terms of revenue growth and market capital growth.
Its easy to recognize if your company is lacking creative thinking and risk taking. For example, do you have many products and services that are stagnating which haven’t been refreshed or renewed for years? Do you have a blame culture, that is, are individuals chastised if they make a mistake? Do competitors seem to come up with new ideas before you do? Do you struggle to come up with exciting new ideas that enable you to overcome technical ‘roadblocks’?
If the answer to these questions is yes, this could signify that your work-force is afraid to try something different, and that fear is holding them back.
But, what can be done about it? The clues have been subtly placed throughout this article. If you want to encourage innovation you need to train your leaders to develop a culture within their team that rewards risk taking and does not chastise failure. This may require a organization change programme, but the research suggests that moving from conservatism to innovation will yield a significant return on investment.