“Living in Fear” at Work? Why? | Overcoming the Killer Consequences of Suspicion

Suspicion is our enemy. It spawns defensiveness, driving our optimism, courage, and self-confidence underground. And we let it. living in fear 7597105228_1b6c41eddc_n

As a consequence, we allow it to turn us inside out, then blame it for our woes.

Avoid fabricating backstories.

There’s no getting around the inevitable, ever constant change that’s the daily bread of business:

  • The CEO announces that all employees need to be more accountable for their work output and then implements a company-wide training program to launch a new accountability culture.
  • A couple of popular, high-ranking managers are let go for unstated reasons and ushered out without time to pack up their things.
  • Organization changes are announced and long-time gurus of the business are passed over; younger, up-and-comers are given coveted, high visibility roles.
  • Your boss reconfigures your job duties unexpectedly, requiring you to develop new technical skills.

These changes produce angst. What does it mean to our careers? To our ability to keep our jobs?

Most of the time we understand little at best about the reasons that drive these changes. The less we know that more suspicious become about what’s behind it all.

In the absence of information, we fill in the blanks ourselves, creating backstories that morph into dramas we accept as reality. So we tell ourselves:

  • “My department is always blamed for late reports, so this accountability training is about us. I wonder whose head they’re after. Maybe I’ll be the scapegoat.”
  • “One day the CEO talks about leaders having to be more flexible and the next day those managers are gone. I could be next.”
  • “If they demote the managers who are the keepers of the company’s historic knowledge, that means they can’t see much value in what I know.”
  • “My boss knows that I don’t have all the skills for my new job duties. It feels like I’m being set up to fail which could get me fired or displaced.”

We think self-composed, doomsday stories will prepare us for the worst. But they only drive us into an unhealthy state of “living in fear” of the Career Grim Reaper.

Focus on facts .

The notion of “living in fear” of losing your job or workplace status is self-imposed hyperbole, a desire to create drama in your head around the unsettling aspects of change.

We all tend to fear the unknown. So the antidote is information, the factual kind.

When facing changes at work, ask yourself what you actually know. Be careful not to accept as fact what your fellow employees are telling you, since they’re prone to fabricating their own stories based on supposition and hearsay.

Focus on what you’re contributing–your work output, behavior, skills, and willingness to adapt to change:

  • Listen to what the leadership wants from you and determine how you can deliver it.
  • Realize that when managers are let go, their release is not about you. Stay focused on your role and performing well.
  • Recognize that the repositioning of employees in an organization is how new leaders and fresh thinking are fostered.  See those changes as clues to what you need to demonstrate to move up.
  • Accept that the way you do your job will continually change. Instead of dreading new requirements and technology, be prepared to accept them.
  • Be ahead of the curve by continually looking for ways to improve the way work is done.

Stay focused on the actual work you’re performing and the feedback you’re receiving.

Work grounded.

You can only control your own output and behavior. Although it’s important to observe what’s going on around you, getting caught up in the intrigue will only distract you from what you’re paid to do.

It’s easy to get drawn into the paranoia, doomsday projections, and soap opera scenarios of coworkers, but that’s a trap itself.

Instead, stick to what’s real–the work in front of you. Listen to direction that comes from the leadership and do your best to ride the change train to a successful career.

Photo from Razan alhammad via Flickr

10 Wake-up Call Questions for Employees in Denial

Employees just tune it out. They stop hearing the company’s messages about sagging profits, increased competition, and high operating costs.   

Even as supervisors, we start to believe it’s probably just a scare tactic to get employees to work harder.  So we tune out the implications when our employees need us to lead. 

Look reality in the eye 

No one wants to be caught at work with their proverbial pants down. That means, as supervisors, we need to pay attention to what management is saying. 

As the supervisor, you’re the one expected to communicate what’s going on to your employees. You’re the messenger and sometimes the message isn’t very palatable, even to you. 

Even if your employees act skeptical, push back, or become dismissive, communicating what you can (some things may be proprietary) is a must.  

As a supervisor, your job is to get and keep the attention of your employees. You need to make sure they understand the realities of the marketplace and how they might be affected. 

You are their teacher and guide to their future success. So when they are at risk, you need to focus them on ways they can influence their future. 

Some work groups become particularly vulnerable when a business is feeling the financial squeeze—human resources, marketing, IT, customer service, finance—because some of their services can be subcontracted. 

These employees often feel the need to justify their cost-benefit to the company. Their tendency is to become defensive rather than to take the offense. 

Smart supervisors refocus their employees what their collective value to the company can/will be going forward. They help them self-assess and then reinvent themselves with their eyes wide open. 

Promote inquiry and vigilance. 

Here are ten questions every supervisor should work through routinely with his/her employees to wake up awareness and excite new ideas as part of planning and goal setting, no matter what conditions the company faces. 

In a working session or as part of routinely scheduled meetings, resolve each question through open discussion: 

1. What business are we in? For example, is it… 

  • Delivering training programs or promoting more effective performance?
  • Trouble-shooting software or building a tech savvy workforce?
  • Answering customer questions or building a loyal customer following? 

2. If our work group no longer existed, who would notice or care?  

       Employees in other work groups, customers, regulators, suppliers, no one

3. How are we perceived within and outside the company? What’s our brand? Are we… 

  • Sought-after specialists or just an after-thought
  • Customer-oriented or internally focused
  • Innovative leaders or status quo protectors 

4. Whose support do we need?

       Executive leadership, other department managers, internal clients, key customers,   regulators, media, each other 

5. How do we expand our influence?  

     Increased visibility, relationship building, collaborative activities, high quality work 

6. What do we need to do better?  

     Improve skills, output, processes, communication, trustworthiness, service  

7.  What’s at stake if we don’t retool/reposition ourselves?  

     Dissolution, downsizing, absorption into another department, loss of funding and/or   influence 

8. How much time do we have to get it together?  

     A year, six months, a quarter, asap! 

9. What do we need to do now?  

     Answer our unanswered questions, gather more data, generate more ideas, build a plan, distribute assignments, engage others, implement actions, debrief results, continue to improve

10. Who’s accountable for what? Make assignments.

     You as supervisor, individual employee team members—everyone has a part to play 

Work together—as a team! 

It’s been documented frequently, through workplace studies, that most employees trust what their immediate supervisors say over anyone else in the company. So what and how you tell them make a big difference. 

The more successful you are showing your employees how conditions in the company are likely to impact them, the more engaged and willing they’ll be to follow your lead. Do this and you’ll see resistance decline and teamwork increase.   

Try asking your employees these ten questions. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.

Photo from Minarae via Flickr

Change or Stagnation? What’ll It Be? | Facing Resistance Behaviors

Odd, isn’t it? We accept a job. Learn how it’s to be done. Then decide to do certain things our own way. That’s okay if our boss agrees that our way is as good or better. But often, s/he doesn’t think so.

We resist change when it doesn’t compute.

Few employees understand how their work impacts the business. Theirs is not a big picture view; it’s a focus on tasks. All jobs, in some way, affect:

  • Profitability
  • Brand identity
  • Customers
  • Efficiency and effectiveness
  • Productivity 

The way we perform either helps or hurts the business and, often, the people we work with. When we resist changes designed to improve the business, we become an obstacle to success.

Resistance can be a cover up.

We rely on our knowledge, skills, and experience to help us achieve. Without the right skill set, we feel helpless and may try to hide our deficiencies.

We especially don’t like it when changes are made to the way we’ve always done our jobs. As a result, we may:

  • overtly resist by creating “noise,” pushback, or non-participation
  • covertly resist by “waiting it out,” expecting management to tire of the resistance and abandon the change 

Change follows consequences.

Successful businesses depend on change. Innovations are change and so are new programs, new employees, new equipment, and new processes. As employees, we are expected to accept and adapt to change willingly, regardless of how disruptive it may feel.   

Change is as good for us as it is for the business. It’s how we add knowledge and skills, test our capabilities, grow and position ourselves for advancement. We need it or we’ll stagnate, become soured about our careers, and lose our edge.

What a horse taught me!

Woody was the first horse I ever bred. He was big, had lots of personality and a strong will.  

As a yearling, he was coming into his own. I would feed him and my other horses at 5:30 AM and turn them out before I went to work.

For Woody this was an important ritual, teaching him the proper deportment he would need for a good life.

One morning he decided he didn’t want to be led out. When I entered the stall, he turned his back on me ready to kick. I was in no mood for attitude! After trying to coax him for about 5 minutes, I turned the other horses out, leaving him alone in the barn. I knew he wouldn’t like that and hoped it would convince him to cooperate.

Instead he got worse. Now, when I entered the stall, he turned and gave a hard kick at me. And another. It was clear: This was going to take a while. I couldn’t let Woody win for his sake and mine.

So I decided to wait him out. I stood at the stall door, holding the lead, and said, “Woody, when you’re ready, come over here, and I’ll take you out with your buddies.”

He looked at me and pitched a major temper tantrum. He bucked and bucked and hurled himself around. Then he’d stop, turn his back to me and peek around to see if I was still there watching. Then he’d carry on again—stop and peek. This went on for 20 minutes.

Finally, he tired of the drama. He quietly came over to me, let me hook the lead to his halter and walk him out to his pasture. That behavior never happened again!

Woody’s decision to ultimately accept what was expected was his ticket to a productive and happy career.

Business fitness boosts our change tolerance. 

Change always puts us a bit off our game. Our ability to see “what’s going on” at our jobs and “how we fit” helps us put change in a useful perspective. So when we face change, let’s invest in making it work and skip the tantrums!

What’s the most difficult change you had to adapt to? Did you resist or accept from the outset? How did it all work out?