Afraid new world – The hidden pandemic


Fear is a primal human emotion, borne out of self-preservation, rooted deep in our cavemen brains. So how is fear felt, experienced and expressed in the modern world, in particular in the workplace?

At &us we often witness fear through our work coaching teams to innovate – fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of judgement – and how it holds people, teams and organisations back. These barriers need to be broken down for innovation to happen, so we wanted to know more about how fear manifests in behaviour and culture at work, and set about conducting an experiment. 

Fear as an invisible everyday force 

Through our research, based on 3000 managers and directors across a number of office-based industries, we found that a number of factors such as status and popularity, through to attending meetings and public speaking are filling us all with a sense of dread, and impacting our work and working relationships. Fear at work also makes us less creative, less productive, less trusting of colleagues and is costing companies around £88 billion per year through lost productivity and disengaged employees. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. By understanding what we fear and how fear affects us, we can take steps to mitigate its effects and even harness it for good. Fear is a barrier for innovation. When used effectively, Fear helps individuals and teams push beyond what they thought they were capable of, and break new ground.

The big take homes:

• Fear is expensive, this is because it leaves your people unengaged, uncreative and uncooperative. And quite often, they leave 

• Creativity, productivity and employee morale are the biggest losers in all this – and as a consequence so are innovation and growth

You’re not alone:

• Fear is universal, and in general so are the things people fear: Safety and security are what we are most afraid of losing 

• We’re most afraid when we feel vulnerable, unsupported and undervalued. This can make people afraid to show their work, share their knowledge, and can make them form little kingdoms at work where they can’t be scrutinised

• Understand what’s actually causing fear. Most people resist innovation at work not because they fear change but because company leadership hasn’t defined what they mean by innovation, or set out whose responsibility it is. It’s this ambiguity and uncertainty that creates the fear, rather than the change itself

• Contextualise it. You have to understand how fear shows up in your individual organisation to be able to work with it

It’s not all negative:

• Reframe the issue: In some instances, fear can be leveraged to motivate people. The feeling of fear is the same feeling as a rush of adrenaline, so leaders need to help their employees reframe it

• Be clear: Establish your definition of innovation, have a clear plan, and make sure everybody knows their role. People will be visible and brave if they know exactly what’s expected of them. If people know your expectations, they can deliver

• Culture of experimentation: The less pressure there is on experimentation, the less fearful your staff will be. Get your teams making, testing and learning – with emphasis on the learning part. People are terrified of losing their jobs for taking risks! In a culture where you’re always trying to enhance and improve, this won’t be the case 

• Build bravery: In individuals, in teams, and in the organisation. Leadership needs to lead by example to create cultures where people aren’t afraid to be bold and share their ideas

We’ve built a microsite for you to explore the research and findings, to help you understand how fear can appear in our work lives. We’ve also put together a toolkit for you to download that contains practical exercises and insights to start you on your journey to managing fear. 

So now, the only thing you have to fear, is fear itself.

Visit the Afraid New World website here!

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