When Fear Grips our Workplaces

By Greg Hunter, RT (R) (T)

      Beth Boynton, RN, MS


Maybe you’ve heard it one too many times, “What, me? Talk to my boss about that? Are you on drugs?” Fear in the workplace has many faces that can well become an epidemic in the healthcare setting.

Fear is said to be any threat to one’s well being. In most work settings, healthcare institutions included, the culture of fear can be felt in the following situations. Employees work in the fear of:

  • Not being understood

“They don’t understand us, nor see us on this side of the fence.” The “us” and “they” are at opposite poles that seem impossible to meet halfway. They don’t speak their minds at meetings because they feel sure that their suggestions would just be taken lightly, or worse, may not be entertained at all. 

  • Authority
  • When the manager summons an employee, the first thing that comes to mind is, “What did I do this time?” The employee starts practicing his ‘speech’ on how to explain possible mistakes he thought he did or who else is responsible for them.  (I know that blaming cultures are not the focus of this post, but I suspect that this is a common thread of reflection)
  • Staff do not leave unless the ‘boss’ leaves first. There is less initiative coming from the staff and they cannot assert themselves.
  • The authority leads by fear. The management gets results by instilling and eliciting dreadful emotions
  • Losing something
  • “Will we still be in the payroll next year?” Job tenure is always a lingering distress. A friend just got her bad news the other week and the employee believes she would have the same fate.
  • “I could lose years of hard work.” Losing credibility can be a big no-no sign to a worker’s peace of mind.
  • Losing control over one’s tasks, “I don’t know what to do about it.” There is just limited information available for reference, or at times, there is too much information that the staff drowns digging into handbooks, guides, and protocols.
  • “I’ve been waiting to be promoted and now it looks like all my efforts are in vain”. Missing opportunities is a great source of uncertainty.
  • Workplace bullies.

“I don’t want to be in the same elevator with that monster.” Emotional and physical harms are serious causes of work-related stress secondary to fear. The employee drags himself unwillingly to work, and could not perform his best. He would rather take it all or risk being humiliated and sabotaged.

  • Not being recognized for contributions

“It will mean the world to me if they become aware that what I did made the positive outcome happen.” Lack of recognition is the number one killer of self-motivation.

  • Contacting deadly or incurable diseases.

Even though you are sure you have used all personal Protective Equipment and followed all protocols in caring for an Ebola patient, you become paranoid and wait for yourself to manifest signs and symptoms.

Fear is not necessarily the experience of the staff alone. Do managers have them, too? As much as you are surprised, yes, they do. What are those fears?

  • Not being able to keep with standards

“I don’t think the plan is working as it should.” Managers are sometimes at a loss when strategies fail. Some troubleshoot to no avail.

  • Not satisfying clients and other partner organizations

Managers become anxious when they think that their organization cannot keep up with the demands of clients, stakeholders, and other organizations that they work with, especially if that means less profit or budget allocations for the organization.

  • Not being able to involve and mobilize people

Perhaps this fear is the most unspoken of all fears because naturally, managers have the confidence to lead, and they would not be in their position if not for their leadership skills. But these fears are real, and so are management failures.

Needless to say, fear factor in the workplace are hurdles to every plausible positive outcome. Ultimately, what suffer are factors that lead to organizational goal attainment such as employee engagement, process improvement and positive patient outcomes.

Is fear gripping your organization? Maybe it’s time to face your fears and let  help you. ManageUP uses strategies that unclog communication channels and help eradicate the culture of fear. We are experts at instituting Personnel and Resource Management Solution, Change Management and Organizational Transparency which are known strategies for addressing fear factors in the workplace.



10 Signs You Work in a Fear-based Environment

Jane Jordan, Greg Measer, Asha Agrawal, and James G. Hodge Jr., Legal, Operational, and Practical Considerations For Hospitals and Health Care Providers in Responding to Communicable Diseases Following the 2014 Ebola Outbreak, 23 U. Miami Bus. L. Rev. 341 (2014)

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