Is Fear in the Workplace Holding You Hostage?

8 years ago

The paradox of these changing times is that on the one hand it is an ideal time to re-evaluate your career path whether you still have a job, got laid off, or started/own a business. On the flip side these anxieties are transforming the workplace and business climate in such a way that many people are scared into full paralysis.

I was recently speaking with a prospective client who is really interested in taking her career in a new direction. Let's call her Sue (not her real name). She's been in the same career for a long time and while she has thus far avoided the pink slip brigade, things are volatile at her company in terms of reorganizations and layoffs. To add to her conundrum, she really wants to do something different with her professional life whether it is opening her own business or entering a different field. Problem is, Sue is stuck in analysis paralysis with some whipped cream and a dash of fear on top. Her current job and work environment doesn't align with her values but she is afraid to rock the boat.

If I hear "afraid to rock the boat" one more time I could scream. I understand being judicious and professional in your career, that is a sign of strong character. Being afraid to ever take a stand, speak up, or walk to the beat of your own drum because you have bought into the illusion that making no waves will keep you and your job "safe" is, well a fantasy. This fantasy plagues many people and lately it has gotten epidemic.

Back in January the NY Times blog ran a piece called "Fear Factor in the Workplace". Six experts from various disciplines weighed in on the matter. Words used to describe employees during this time include jittery, compliant, risk-averse, fearful, anxious. Mitchell Lee Marks described the irony well:

The irony here is that this risk aversion comes just at a time when creativity is needed in the workplace.

Myra S. White takes a more personal angle on it:

A little anxiety increases performance and is useful. You feel the pressure to show up on time and do a good job. But too much anxiety kills performance. What happens if this is a collective contagion the workplace? Or when the whole society has caught this flu?

It becomes every man and woman for themselves, attention is narrowed, and people focus on how things will affect them. They don’t have anything left over to be compassionate and caring about the people around them.

Fear is toxic when not used to inform and channel your choices from solid ground. "Driving Fear Out of the Workplace" talks about how fear prevents people from doing their best work.

Earlier in the the last century W. Edwards Demming wrote that quality is impossible where people are afraid to tell the truth.

I would like to extrapolate this statement to say that quality of life (not just on the job) is impossible when you're afraid to tell the truth to yourself or to make the changes you most need to make.

It is never easy to make a big life change or go against a seemingly insurmountable tide (of work, obligations, fear, threats, broken promises, etc.) yet it is these moments when we take a stand for what we really want that set us on a more meaningful path. You just need to know how to manage your fear and stress during a career transition (voluntary or forced).

So the extra heightened state of fear in the workplace (code orange at least) need not be the thing that shuts you down. You really can use it as a launching pad for creating something new and ultimately more satisfying.

Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, offers life and business coaching for women to help you gain the clarity, confidence, and courage you need to succeed on your own terms. Get the free eCourse "5 Steps to Move from Fear to Freedom" at her website

Get the latest word on personal finances from an LGBT perspective and Paula's practical coach approach to the topic at Queercents


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