Is Fear A Good Motivator?

October 1, 1997 in Radio, Television, News and Articles

From Incentive Magazine Published October 1997
Edited by Nicole Sforza

Fear is a great motivator. To understand why, one must realize that fear motivates in all aspects of life.  Growing up, we were afraid of teachers, parents, priests and rabbis. There was fear of not graduating, being suspended, looking foolish in front of classmates and of not getting accepted into college. We grew up holding authority figures in high esteem. Now, the bulk of the population is afraid of people with authority.

Knowing this, implementing a certain amount of fear within the workplace can be used to a manager’s advantage to increase the bottom line. The problem is that many managers get too close to their employees. Employees aren’t afraid anymore becuase the relationship becomes too comfortable. When this happens, the manager is losing his authority over his or her employees. Fear, in this sense, is working in reverse. The employer begins to fear the employee. Fear is always a factor, it’s just a case of who’s using it..  Too many times it’s the employee using it on the employer.

The key to making fear work is to be realistic with the consequences. Make sure the consequences have meaning and that you follow through with them. First, there must be a clear explanation of what is expected of employees. Once this is clearly laid out and agreed to, use fear only when employees do not meet these expectations.

Offer some consequence if productivity is not increased, like reducing the base salary or not paying a cellular phone bill – something to get the message across to ensure it won’t happen again. If it does happen again, the “or else” should become more serious – an employee can lose an account or have his territory cut in half. The third time around, say “do it or you don’t work here anymore.”
I recently worked with a sales manager who used a “warm fuzzy” relationship approach to get people to “love” her. They were happy, but productivity decreased. When eliciting fear, morale temporarily goes down, but employees start being more productive, making more money and then of course, morale goes up! It’s a long term motivator.

If you ask star athletes who their best coaches or managers were, they would say the toughest ones because the tough ones brought out the best in them. It doesn’t require that you be nasty, only that you be firm.

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