The pandemic was a strategic game-changer in the corporate world. Employees were exposed to the possibilities of remote working – especially when it comes to side hustles. Predictably, a number of workers during the pandemic made a fortune betting on their favorite teams on liontips.com and other side gigs.
Therefore returning to the traditional office work environment (and fully dedicating to one company) after the pandemic has not been the easiest. This is especially true for motivating your employees to give their best.
Should you threaten them to step up or get the axe? Is fear a genuine motivator?
This is one big question thousands of managers are confronted with every day as they manage their teams. What is the best way to get the best out of your team?
Would it be by relentlessly reminding how much they stand to lose if they don't raise performances or by illuminating the beautiful possibilities (of a much better life for themselves and the people they love)?
The truth is fear is negative motivation. Yes, it can get things done – but it can't get things done sustainably. From my managerial experience, fear establishes a scarcity-mindset.
This consolidates a sense of insecurity as time goes on, which would ultimately eat into your team's productivity and inventiveness.
Using insecurities to force your team to step up
Many business leaders make the mistake of commanding performances from their subordinates by intimidation – not earned respect.
For this type of leader, they cast a specter of insecurity around their team such that the fear of losing what they have got (which is most likely their means of livelihood) keeps them working their socks off.
Here, there is always the threat of being sacked or dropped off, hanging around the work atmosphere. But there is an interesting paradox to this. Such fear would motivate but would motivate so ephemerally.
When you laden an employee with insecurity to keep him on his toes, you may succeed in keeping him on his toes for the immediate time, but an intelligent employee (when confronted with such insecurities) will start building defense mechanisms as time goes on.
This would cost a dearth of long-term commitment on the part of your employees to your company's objectives. Such misfortune is not unnatural due to the lack of conviction (from your workers) about their indispensability to your cause.
Therefore, you could see such regularly threatened employees diligently building up a sort of financial airbag. This is a crisis fund that would buffer the economic impact in case of the accident of a sack. On the flip side, the employee starts actively searching for another job.
When your employee is convinced that he has saved enough that could sustain him some months if sacked (or he has secured another job), that scarcity mindset is automatically defeated. Here, the fear mechanism leveraged by the leader loses its motivational edge.
This is because the employee doesn't have much to lose anymore. With nothing to lose – and not much to gain (to the best of their knowledge) – the employee's performance levels drop drastically. The manager little to zero leverage on such an employee and would struggle to motivate him.
No room for invention...
Using fear as a motivational tool also stifles creativity. You wouldn't disagree with this, would you? When your employees are loaded with fear, they become exponentially apathetic to risk.
Since they know they are walking on eggshells, they are so scared of getting it wrong. This way, they are not venturing a millimeter off certainty.
They prefer to eternally stick to conventions and orthodox methodologies rather than being creative, trying something new, and possibly failing.
This would significantly impinge on their sense of autonomy. The last thing you want to lose in your organization is inventiveness. The most successful companies in the world are driven not entirely by a visionary manager but by a proportionately innovative workforce.
Fear of failure must ultimately lead to failure. In the wise words of Andrew Carton: "Fear may appear at first to be a mechanism that helps people stay alert to the unacceptability of failure, but it can ironically be a source of failure."
You want to surround yourself with a front-thinking team with a gluttonous appetite for the new-new – not incarcerating yourself within a human wall of cowering employees, all too scared to veer off traditions.
Bad energy everywhere
Using fear as a motivational tool sucks off all the positivity from the air in your workplace. This rapidly kills the enthusiasm and the vibe in the office.
Since you are embellishing the negatives – via fear – you inevitably hide all the good stuff that was supposed to feed the optimism (and that feel-good factor) in your employees.
The fear drives off the excitement, and instead of employees being driven by the thrill of conquering new feats, they are rather driven back by the pessimism that things could go bad – and at a high price.
Such gloom would murder their productivity. They would be spending far more time thinking if they would still have their jobs tomorrow, instead of thinking of how well (and how fast), they can thrust your company into the top percentile of your industry.
As a manager, you want a positively charged-up team. You want happy, ambitious, and motivated employees. You want employees who are inspired enough to go for it, not run from it. This is why you shouldn't use fear as a motivational tool.
What is your thought on this?