Fear in the workplace can have a significant impact on performance and collaboration, according to positive psychology expert Tim Sharp, who said managers and leaders need to spend more time looking out for opportunities to catch people doing things right and recognising positive behaviours.
Fear, like all emotions, has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the context and the way it’s managed, he said.
“On the positive side it serves as a warning signal and can protect us from danger,” said Sharp, who serves as chief happiness officer at The Happiness Institute as well as an executive coach, clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at UTS Business School & RMIT School of Health Sciences.
“On the negative side it tends to lead to avoidance and withdrawal, as people tend to ‘close up’ when afraid and anxious as part of the natural protective and defence system.”
“Too often people hide their positive emotions (such as happiness) because they’re afraid they won’t be taken seriously”
In the workplace, fear is usually unhelpful due to the fact that as just hinted at, and associated with social withdrawal and a narrowing of cognitive focus.
“What that means is that people are less likely to collaborate and less likely to cope with stress and feel resilient,” he said.
“People don’t solve problems as well or generate positive solutions as well when afraid.
“So if a manager or boss is aggressive or threatening or behaves inappropriately or unpredictably then this can certainly cause problems in terms of performance and productivity.”
How executives can build a positive culture
Speaking ahead of the Leading an Entrepreneurial Culture to Drive Growth conference, which will be held in Sydney on 4 September 2015, Sharp said executives can take a number of steps to enhance positive emotions within their organisational culture.
“The first point to make is that positive emotions are an important part of a positive workplace culture and they’re beneficial because in contrast to negative emotions. they lead to more open mindedness, creativity, better problems solving and enhanced collaboration,” said Sharp.
“So, positive emotions should be encouraged by managers and leaders. How? Well again, as just noted, encourage them!
“Too often people hide their positive emotions (such as happiness) because they’re afraid they won’t be taken seriously but managers should look out for and reward appropriate displays of positive emotion,” he said.
Positivity can also be encouraged via the practice of gratitude (saying thank you and expressing appreciation), by celebrating successes and wins, and by focusing on what’s going well rather than just focusing on problems all the time, Sharp added.
The role of HR leaders
The best way for managers and leaders to facilitate the above is to prioritise positive culture and positivity and then, “to walk the walk”, according to Sharp.
“Leaders should be positive role models, doing and saying what they’d like others to do and say.”
“Managers should look out for and reward appropriate displays of positive emotion”
At the same time, he said they can look out for opportunities to catch people doing things right, and when this happens they can then reinforce these desirable behaviours through attention and rewards.
“At The Happiness Institute we’ve been saying for more than a decade now that achieving happiness requires little more than practising a few simple disciplines, each and every day,” said Sharp.
Leading an Entrepreneurial Culture to Drive Growth will be held at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour, Sydney, on 4 September from 8am to 5pm. For more information visit the conference website or download the conference brochure. Image source: iStock