Great leadership can completely transform a workplace, increasing productivity, revenue and results. Poor leadership, however, can have catastrophic effects on a company. Many leaders use fear-based tactics without being aware of the dramatic consequences they can have on a workplace. Fear may provide short-term motivation, but it comes with lasting effects including resentment, absence and poor performance.

Freud asserts that humans are designed to seek pleasure over pain, and in the workplace, this translates to employees responding better to reward rather than reprimand. A fear-based culture is one where your employees work to avoid negative results such as warnings and terminations. Here are just a few of the reasons you need to try to eliminate fear as a leader:


Fear-based cultures induce stress in employees, who work solely to avoid negatives and don’t receive any positivity. This translates to poor productivity, increased absence and even safety concerns. A stressed employee will not offer insight, which means your company may miss out on valuable knowledge available from the inside. To cut down on stress, ensure as a leader you provide rewards for good work, allow workers to offer insight and cut back on visible negative reprimands.

Fight or flight

The fight or flight response triggered by fear can be disastrous to employees. Research indicates that this response can destroy cognitive power, causing employees to shut down when they are confronted by fear. However, by allowing employees to challenge your decisions, you may be able to circumvent this fear response and instead create a ‘challenge’ option in an employees brain, which allows them to feel valued. If you’re meeting an employee face to face, let them know you are willing to hear them out.

Control as an anxiety trigger

Employees need to feel like they have control over their working lives. The fear of losing control is a powerful anxiety trigger which can prompt fight or flight responses. As a leader, it’s important to ensure your teams feel like they can control their work and that they are comfortable seeking help if they fear a lack of control.

Fear as a leader

A fear-based workplace doesn’t just happen. It’s generally a symptom of a fearful leader, who only hires people that will agree with their ideas and will go along with their vision. If you don’t allow conflicting opinions, you are likely controlling a fear-based workplace that does not give employees a feeling of value.

Ultimately, fear and anxiety are poor motivators. As a leader, you must identify fear in your workplace and work to eliminate it. Create a workplace where people are not afraid to lose their jobs if goals are not met; instead, results should be rewarded and employees feel valued. As stated above, fear comes from within – and great leadership is the ability to look at yourself and realise that you’re creating fear in your workplace. Allow employees to have opinions, feel valued and be in control and your company will enjoy far more positive results.