Fear is a primal emotion that has been part of human nature since the dawn of evolution. It is a basic yet crucial emotion that is important for survival, triggering a response designed to keep us safe from threats and dangers. In this sense, fear is a valuable feeling to experience from time to time, as it guarantees we are as secure as can be in specific circumstances.
However, problems can arise if fear becomes a constant burden. This is particularly true if it occurs in the workplace. Fear can instil feelings of stress and anxiety, which together account for up to 60% of work absences annually and cost organisations an average of £666 per worker. Furthermore, it can affect the efficiency and productivity of the business as a whole.
It is important for leaders to find ways to help employees overcome fear in the workplace. In this article, we explore how this can be done by building a healthy, psychologically safe environment.
1. Show empathy and build trust
One of the most important responsibilities of any leader or manager is to establish relationships of trust. Indeed, trust is the gateway to teamwork, collaboration, and high morale, acting as a powerful tool for reducing fear and stress. When a team lacks trust, they are likely to live in constant anxiety. And when people feel they can’t show vulnerability, they often conceal their worries rather than speaking up and asking for the help they need.
Building trust and nurturing team development require demonstrating empathy and emotional intelligence. Leaders should remind their employees that they are there to support them and acknowledge that anyone can have a bad day or experience uncertainty. A leader that can demonstrate their own vulnerability and be honest about when they are feeling worried or scared will have stronger connections and, ultimately, higher levels of trust within their team.
2. Normalise fear
Let’s not beat around the bush: from CEO to apprentice level, everyone is bound to have reservations around some specific aspect of their role. Some may feel uncomfortable giving a presentation in front of their colleagues, while others may feel pressured by urgent, last-minute tasks.
Sharing and acknowledging this can help to decrease the intensity of fear within a team. In fact, it normalises the experience and lets people know that they are not alone. Encouraging people to recognise feelings of fear while understanding that they are only temporary is all part of this process.
Leaders should encourage their staff to speak to each other and to have open conversations about how they have conquered fears in the past, thereby further normalising fear across the business and creating pathways to help people move forward.
3. Establish clarity and transparency
Many employees will experience increased stress and anxiety if they do not know what is expected from them. Each team should not only have a solid organisational vision but also clearly defined team goals and an understanding of each person’s role in achieving them. By equipping people with the right tools, skills, and resources to do this, leaders can turn fear and anxiety into confidence and motivation.
Clarity around decision-making provides further transparency. For example, if a team leader is hiring a candidate for a new role, some team members may worry about how the change will affect them; some may even be concerned that the need for the new role has arisen because they are not performing well enough. But if the leader outlines their intentions and maintains transparency, these fears can be prevented from the outset. Furthermore, employees are more likely to support decisions if they understand them.
4. Control reactions
Disagreements and criticism are an inevitable – and healthy – part of any team dynamic. Team members should feel able to voice concerns or dispute something that their leader has done without fear of being shrugged off or receiving a negative response.
Equally, if a leader receives bad news from an employee, they must ensure to stay calm and neutral. Things don’t always go to plan, but by embracing the right attitude and thanking the employee, the leader nurtures a positive environment that leaves no room for fear.
It is entirely human to experience fear and worry. However, workplaces should be welcoming, collaborative, and psychologically safe places if they are to truly drive productivity and success.
From building relationships of trust and normalising stress to maintaining transparency and allowing for disagreements, there are many steps that any leader can take to effectively reduce fear within their organisation.