Could You Be Scaring Your Employees?

Posted by Sarah Soroka on Sep 4, 2019 9:00:00 AM

In ICS insights, client

At some point or another, most of us have worked for a manager who’s great with customers or supervisors but ends up being pretty scary one-on-one.

While it’s easy to know if you’re working under someone like that, it’s challenging to assess if you’re already being the scary manager nobody wants to work with. Even though your results-driven style may look make it seem like you’re doing the right thing, could your management style actually be intimidating your employees?

Business performance goes hand in hand with how your employees feel about you. In fact, a Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies research in 2018 uncovered that a pressure-based management style can increase predicted employee turnover by more than 90%. On the flip side, taking a route that’s more understanding and inspiring can help decrease the likely turnover rate by about 68%.

Observe How Your Employees Respond to Your Leadership Style

To accurately understand whether or not your employees are afraid of you, you’ll need to take a step back and observe their behavior. Simply asking upfront won’t be the best step as the power dynamics may not give you the answer they’d truthfully give.

Consider how you treat both your customers and your employees. How do you show that you value the people who are working with you? Do you tend to discuss things only when you’re upset at a particular result? Or do you make time and effort to praise your employees?

Another thing to look for is whether or not those working for you tend to speak up or remain quiet around you. In some instances, employees may actually be scared to voice their opinions when you’re around.

Discuss What Team Culture Means to Your Employees

While it might not be a great idea to ask directly what your employees think of your management tactics, getting a better sense of how they feel about workplace culture is a better place to start.

Think about ways to form your questions so that employees have the opportunity to answer from their real experiences. Asking them when they felt specific things can help encourage more thorough answers.

Check on Your Own Fears

It’s common to be afraid of failure. In fact, most people have been there. However, some managers can accidentally project this fear onto their employees, therefore making them feel anxious as well.

This much fear is toxic to the workplace and can create negative behaviors that actually reduce productivity, thus driving the fear cycle all over again.

Projecting your fear of failure can result in micromanagement and can make your employees feel as though they aren’t performing their jobs.

Focus on Connecting with Your Employees

Sources of workplace fear are often tied to an idea of success that the manager instills in their employees. However, taking the time to sit down and speak with employees about their definitions of success can be open up a sounder conversation about how teams can better work together.

If your current management style has more to do with correcting your employees than sitting down to understand their definitions of success, you might be creating an atmosphere of fear. Making an effort to get on the same page is a solid step towards leading your team to a more conversation-based dynamic, rather than one in which they fear correction.

Take a Welcoming Approach

A positive culture is a safe culture. If you’re open to different voices, opinions, and ideas, you’ll be well on your way to seeing your team’s commitment and productivity flourish. Of course, you’ll need to take a step back every so often and let your employees show you where you might be wrong.

Instead of trying to prove yourself right in every situation, take a moment to hear your employees out. Perhaps they really are right about a new workflow or solution that you might have overlooked. Don’t worry about looking weak in front of your team. Showing that you’re willing to accept when you are wrong will actually help them like you more, and encourage them to continue collaborating in a way that’s productive for everyone.


Being feared isn’t a great way to get results. However, taking the time to evaluate your own management style is a great step toward shifting the narrative of your workplace culture.

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