Fear As A Motivator Simply Doesn’t Work

I recently witnessed a manager use fear as motivator with someone who’d rather not have a lot of responsibility on his hands. Frankly, this is the wrong person to challenge. But the bigger problem is this manager, and every other higher up in this company, uses fear to motivate people all the time!

“This is all yours, if it fails it’s on you.” Some of us have been told some version of this sentence by a boss, and most don’t take good. If anything, it makes people nervous and anxious in a negative way.

Why? Because this is an example of fear as a motivator; when you use threats or scare tactics to motivate people. Even if the person who gets threatened has a growth mindset, it simply won’t work.

Here’s why:

“Research shows that as tools for motivating workers, fear and intimidation come with a lot of risk and have been largely discredited for some time. A tyrannical management style can lead to low self-esteem and performance as it eats away at team cohesiveness, increases stress and helplessness, and creates a feeling of work alienation.

If the message the workplace culture is constantly sending to employees is to be afraid, is that company getting the most out of its workers? “Fear is a normal human emotion, and — when held in check — can sometimes be a functional or even necessary way to ensure that people do not become complacent. But when fear becomes an entrenched marker of an organization’s culture, it can have toxic effects over the long run. In addition to stifling creativity, it can inhibit collaboration and lead to burnout.”

There is some evidence that the use of fear works, but you have to use it in small doses. For example, you have to hire people who love challenges and are more than willing to take them on. These people are already motivated by the fear of not being challenged.

Still, the best approach to get the best from people is to make them feel supported. Be empathetic, figure out what makes people tick, what brings out their best.