I find myself holding typically, for me, diametrically opposing views on this.
I’ve had the experience of working for employers who seemed almost fixated on getting employees to feel very safe and secure, others, who definitely liked everyone to be concerned about their job security, and yet others who seemed not to care either way.
Admittedly, the bulk of my career has been spent either as an independent contractor, or working for smaller, family owned operations, so my take on things is probably a little skewed as a result.
With that said, I think there are definitely three distinct employer types.
- Use ‘fear’ to manage the person, and the job
- Attempt to only manage the work, not the person
- Build in a ‘secure’ feeling to manage the person, and the job
I would like to think that the second out numbers the 1st and 3rd combined, but I’m not so sure that’s true. I do know that those companies I’ve been involved with who limited their efforts to managing the work, were better run over all, than those who fell into category 1 or 3.
The folks I’m currently contracted to fall into that 2nd category. They waste little time attempting do much more than what I’d consider standard things with respect to managing the ‘fear’ factor. When they went through a fairly large directional change, they notified all employees by email of the change. They’ve continued to hold informational meetings every other week as the new directions for the company are mapped and decided upon.
I’ve had the misfortune to also be employed by companies in categories 1 and 3 as well though.
I think the worst of those was the company in category 3. One of the favorite sayings of the owner involved the phrase “job for life”. He would tell people as they were hired that there had never been, and most likely would never be, a ‘lay-off’, that once they were ‘on board’ the company would work to ensure they’d always have a job.
Today, that company is a part of history. Although I don’t doubt the sincerity of the words; they still served to build a false sense of security in everyone who worked there. I know from talking with those folks who’d been let go as various divisions closed, that they’d never expected to be told they were no longer needed, or that their jobs were being eliminated. I say worst, because there was no anticipation, no expectation that ‘they’ would ever be effected, it was only happening to other people.
Category 1, the ‘fear’ folks however, in my mind, are the real management disaster.
The fear they attempt to keep alive, tends to be tied to several other management idiosyncrasies as well. But, the real problem is that in perpetuating the fear, they also hamper the very productivity they really are trying to improve.
It’s my contention that people, in general want to be secure, and feeling like they’re doing a good job, and are a valuable resource to the organization, are key to that security. That a culture of uncertainty takes workers focus off the job at hand, and places it on staying out of ‘harms way’. Avoiding any behavior that might ‘rock the boat’ or bring them into the spotlight.
The ‘fear’ managers, actively work to disrupt that secure feeling, preferring instead to keep the employee feeling like they’re ‘not quite there’ yet. There’s always one more thing the person needs to do, one more effort to be made, one more something. I’ve actually had this done to me, at different levels, by the same company.
When I first went to work at the company, I was constantly being told how ‘important’ my contribution was… interestingly enough, I was also renting a home at the time. The fact that I was able to simply pick up, and move, with no tangible ‘roots’, unsettled the employer.
Once I’d purchased a home however, things changed, and rapidly. Within a week, I started what I called “my turn in the box”, the same work that had been great a month ago, was now not enough. Phone calls on weekends, demanding requests that always had to be done before Monday… impossible end of day demands… requiring me to stay (like a lot of others) after the end of the regular work day to achieve them.
I doubt that I would have ever put it together, had my 1st wife and I not separated.
When I was temporarily renting again… amazingly enough… all of that stopped. Suddenly I was the ‘Golden Boy’ again and the accolades returned. Initially, I thought I’d somehow just earned my way back into the ‘good graces’… However, over the course of the next year or so, I began to see a pattern in the bosses behavior, and began to think that as long as he thought I could just pick up and leave, I’d be ‘safe’.
Now I would have thought it was all in my head, if, it hadn’t happened, all over again when I once again purchased a home. I left shortly after that, as I realized that success there, was fleeting (at best) and my temperament did not lend itself to those conditions.
I respond much better to thanks than to threats, in fact a threat is very likely to be met with me calling out the person making the threat. In fact, one of my favorite memories is the expression on a boss’ face as he yelled “Tell me! Who should I fire over this!?”
I replied simply, “If you think that firing someone, will solve anything, just go ahead and fire *me*.” In the end, he didn’t fire anyone; he was just looking to create fear that he would.
I liken what’s happening out there in the workplace today; to times most folks think are long past… what I like to call the “Ebenezer Scrooge” style of management. There was so much progress in ‘management theory’ in the 70’s and 80’s it looked like there would be only stories to remind us of how things once were.
Unfortunately, once folks stopped looking closely at management styles again, all the old ways began to creep back in. The difference is, this time; they’re being applied by folks with a lot of psychological behavior exposure.
My advice? Pay attention, know what you will, and will not accept. Always be prepared to walk away, have a cushion, a set aside, for those times you do walk away. The one thing I’ve discovered is that, for me, there’s no amount of money that will compensate me for bad working conditions.
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