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The Savvy Office Manager

When fear grips the workplace

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Cal Butera

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in The Savvy Office Manager

“There’s no finer bilge pump than a scared man and a bucket,” the old adage goes.

What does that mean for managers? It means that when employees are fearful their boats are sinking, they’ll bail the water fast. In other words, frightened people work harder.

So it’s up to you to create those dire conditions. You know, scare them. That’s how you make your workplace a hive of productivity.

Or is it?

For the short term, perhaps. But you need them for the long haul, and motivating them by spooking them will eventually lead to a roomful of downtrodden souls performing to your narcissistic specifications, careful not to raise your wrath, but feverishly hunting for another job.

Here are the signs and repercussions of such a hell hole:

You treat the workplace like a junior high classroom. You favor the top-down model; that is, you demand unquestioning compliance from those you control. You’re the all-knowing teacher, they’re the disobedient students. You monitor them, criticize them and berate them in front of the class. Or sometimes you pull them into your office and slam the door. It makes good theater. Your directives, emails and memos close out with a veiled threat. You’ve got a sharp eye for errors and a sharper tongue when it comes to fixing them. What’s next? A dunce cap?

The result: Employees are more focused on following your rules than succeeding in their jobs. When you’re pleased, they feel safe. Creativity and innovation are virtually gone.

You’re under the suspicion that all workers are there only for the paycheck. In your mind, a worker is a naturally born slacker who wants high pay for low effort. For a vast chunk of your workers, that’s not true. Yes, employees need good pay, but they also have a need to feel they have a purpose, to contribute to the bottom line and know that what they do matters. It’s called dignity.

The result: Quitting is abnormally high. Sometimes, even a hefty paycheck can’t keep a beaten employee around too long.

You hoard information. Employees don’t need access to the company’s financial ledgers, but on the other hand, they don’t want to hear about your company’s pending layoffs through the news media either. Keep them in the loop on matters that pertain to them. Otherwise you appear distant and sinister.

The result: When information is scarce, the rumor mill fills the gaps. Mistrust grows and employees no longer feel connected to the company.

You believe it takes a firing or two to straighten the other ones out. Nothing like a public execution to let the citizens know the sheriff means business. When the staff members see their colleague marched out the door with his cardboard box filled with his desk trappings, that’ll wake them up.

The result: At this point, you’ve paralyzed the place. Everyone maxes out his or her company-allowed sick and vacation days. Being at work is no longer just unpleasant, it’s downright dangerous.

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