A workplace culture of fear is never normal

In Innovation, News by Arthur van Gerven


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A fear-based work culture is never normal

We could not believe our eyes. It was really, prominently on the front page of the NRC: "Fear can become normal in an organization"

It should not get any crazier! We are acting against this statement. As SPARQ360 we believe that an Angst culture should NEVER become normal in an organization! It is devastating for the involvement and motivation of the people, killing trust in the organization and extinguishing all initiative and creativity. The fact that there are now major articles about fear-based work culturesshow that this is no longer an incidental phenomenon, but a growing problem. To change that is not easy because a fear-based culture is anchored in the unconscious and invisible layers of people and of the organization.

What causes a fear-based work culture?

Organizations are pushing harder and harder to achieve their results and are working with tighter targets. That pressure produces fear of failure and stress about not being able to adequately meet expectations. Because if you do not deliver, you will be replaced. The pressure on people keeps increasing, through the focus on short-term results, the call for even more growth, the ever faster changes in the market and the increasing regulation. In this race, people as humans have been cut out of the picture and instead become subordinate to the results.

Why has a fear-based work culture been accepted for so long?

We see a number of causes for this:

  • The interpretation of the prevailing culture as a culture of fear is scary, sticking your neck out makes you vulnerable.
  • The recognition of fear is a taboo and is often interpreted as a sign of weakness. When you talk about your fear, you admit that there is someone else who scares you.
  • Many place the responsibility of a culture of fear on the boss, and do not feel responsible themselves. The reality is that choosing to continue to work in a culture of fear keeps that culture afloat. To admit that to yourself is hard to swallow.
  • There is no place in the organization to make the fear culture safe to discuss.

What to do?

  1. First recognize there is a culture of fear and enter into a DIALOGUE with the whole organization:
    How to enter into a dialogue has been somewhat forgotten in organizations. Often one communicates in silos or sends a survey or an email, but that is something very different than having a real dialogue. And yet every good relationship starts with a dialogue, both sides listening to each other and respecting the other person's perspective.

  2. Acknowledge the existing culture and clearly state that a culture of fear is not normal and unacceptable. Enter into a reflective structural dialogue with everyone in the organization. This can easily be realized with new technology with and for all people (anonymously or by name).

  3. Take the initiative as  a leader  and and lead by example.
    Engaging and embracing a culture change requires courage. Yet it is the leader only who can initiate a new momentum, create space for change and give a structural commitment. Leaders lead by example and become rolemodels by showing consistent behavior and taking the lead in the change process themselves.
Arthur van Gerven

Arthur van Gerven

Challenging the Status Quo, searching for structural Improvements with strong Client centric view and supporting teams to be successful are key words for the skillset of Arthur. He combines an extensive experience in Global Executive leadership, Operations & Supply Chain management, Innovation & Lean Continuous Improvement, Marketing and Business Development with a very open flexible innovative mindset that helps organizations to achieve sustainable value. He has delivered value in multiple sectors like Retail, e-commerce, healthcare, defense, hi tech. He also developed and launched the global 4 PL product for a large globale logistics provider.
Arthur has held International senior leadership positions within the Dutch Armed Forces and several global Logistics Providers and currently holds 1 Supervisory position.
Arthur van Gerven

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