Should Businesses Capitalize on Employee’s Fears?

The economy is still tough for a lot of people. The words “jobless recovery” are starting to work their way into our vocabulary.

James writes in last week:

“I work for a huge pharmacy chain, and recently had an issue with selling certain drugs over the counter. New rules were just put in place about these drugs, and three people were fired without warning for messing up the rule!

I find this extreme and wonder what has become of employers who actually gave second thought to the outcome of their actions in firing otherwise perfectly responsible, good people.

Why not give us warnings and let us learn the new rules first?”

Not long after, I was listening to an economist speak about the recovery and what it meant to employers. The gist of part of his message was:

“The typical employee is still scared. Their friends don’t have jobs. Use that fact to your advantage.”

I’m a big proponent of individual and business rights and enabling people to run their respective areas as they see fit. I also understand the basic principles of negotiation and that people will seek to use any advantage they have available.

But something’s still bothering me about this. It doesn’t seem right.

Yes, I don’t care if you treat your people like products—companies have for many centuries. But is this the most effective way to run a modern business?

Short term—maybe. Long term—probably not.

Fear is an interesting emotion. It’s rarely an acute kind of stress, but more often a low-grade one that eats away at our performance and our health, slowly and deliberately.

While it’s an effective method of “cracking the whip” on your employees (think about how hard you worked the last time your colleague got laid off), it doesn’t last.

Fear creates distrust in company leaders, encourages gossip, and breeds a “survivalist” kind of thinking. “What can I do to stay employed today?” replaces “What can I do to help the company?”

Risk-taking goes out the window. People grow angry, depressed, or unmotivated. They feel treated like products.

Many companies do this unintentionally. The fear is instilled because of company actions (layoffs, public firings) or more subtle things (private leadership meetings, “employment consultants,” lack of communication, etc.).

But many are also counting on your terror. They understand they have the upper hand and they want to use it. They know they can replace you with 15 people waiting patiently outside the door.

But meanwhile—what is it doing to their business?

That’s my two cents on the subject—what do you think? Have you ever worked for or know someone who’s worked for a company like this? What was your experience? Have you ever been on the other end (employer) and intentionally or unintentionally created a fearful environment? How did it turn out?

Photo by Shandi-lee

6 thoughts on “Should Businesses Capitalize on Employee’s Fears?

  1. I actually used to work for a person like this. In no uncertain terms the owner would tell us, “You can’t get paid anywhere else what you get paid here.” “You’re lucky to even HAVE a job right now.” The group of people I worked with were extremely loyal to each other and very hard-working, in my opinion. I actually planned my pregnancy when it would have the least impact on the business (my husband thought I was nuts when I told him.) When I told her I was pregnant, she acted like I had personally insulted her, and I was her right hand person.
    When you’re in it, you don’t realize what’s going on and I really believed that what she was telling me was the truth. Holy manipulation Batman!
    Eventually, I was laid off due to the economic downturn, but that was even presented like it was my decision and I needed to work part time and spend more time with my child. (Seriously, she said this.) I still believe after a number of years it was because I had a child and didn’t fit into the “mold” of being available all the time, day or night. At the time I was heartbroken, but looking back now, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
    Working for a professional organization now where there are policies, procedures, and definite boundries, I realize the craziness that was going on at the other place.

  2. It definitely isn’t a good way to do business. Once things turn around, or another offer is found, those “fearful” employees will bolt out the door! It is better to create a sense of teamwork and loyalty in these tough times.

    1. Exactly! When the advantage changes, employees are going to give these businesses a taste of their own medicine! It’ll be interesting to see how far the push-back goes.

  3. I think companies that act that way are (in addition to not being a place I’d want to work at or do business with) very short-sighted. Word will get out about their behavior, and they won’t be able to replace employees willy-nilly or keep good employees.

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