Beat the fear culture at work

Economic times are tough. Be it zero-hour contracts or redundancy talk around the water-cooler, the fear culture at work can make you feel flat, anxious and uninspired. But help is at hand – here are five ways to help you fight back.


Beat the fear culture at work

Economic times are tough. Be it zero-hour contracts or redundancy talk around the water-cooler, the fear culture at work can make you feel flat, anxious and uninspired. But help is at hand – here are five ways to help you fight back.

1. Prepare to be scared “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter” Francis Chan

Fear is an emotion that provokes an instinctual response – the fight, flight or freeze syndrome. Great if you are being chased by a big hairy bear in ancient times but in the 21st Century workplace, fear can make work feel miserable – be it fear of being wrong, fear of failing, fear of being judged or just fear of not being good enough. Get used to it, says Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly: How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent And Lead (Portfolio Penguin, £8.99). If you want to be successful, you have to be prepared to be scared. It's the only way to achieve anything of real value, she says. When you take risks at work you've got to expect a few things: fear, self-doubt, comparison, anxiety and uncertainty. Instead of letting fear stop you, she says, expect it to be there. Acknowledge it, know exactly what fear is going to say, and ignore it. ‘Say, “I see you, I hear you, but I’ll do this anyway”,’ Brown says. ‘It feels dangerous to show up. But it's not as terrifying as thinking, at the end of our lives, “What if I had shown up? What would have been different?”’  

2. Build confidence “Thinking will not overcome fear but action will” W. Clement Stone

In a recession, it can feel as though employers hold all the cards. In the UK we have seen wages fall, working hours rise, rights such as sick pay cut and perks disappear, and employees have accepted these because they are scared. But if you are good at your job, you are valuable – even more so in a recession when there are fewer staff and everyone is stretched. Every manager knows the high cost of replacing someone, both in financial terms and in terms of their time and the hassle of finding someone new and bringing them up to speed. Even if your firm is looking to make redundancies, they will not want to lose the most effective staff. ‘Believe in yourself, ’ says Heather McGregor, author of Careers Advice For Ambitious Women (Portfolio Penguin, £9.99). ‘If you believe in yourself you will negotiate effectively.’ She suggests building confidence and self-belief away from work, by setting a goal for yourself each year apart from home and career. ‘It should be something that requires effort and discipline but that isn’t impossible.’ McGregor does this herself: one year she learned to fly; another she wrote a book; another she took a one-woman show to Edinburgh. ‘I think of these achievements and it gives me confidence.’  

3. Make your job work for you “Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.” George Carlin

Whether we are being underpaid, overworked or just not recognised, it can feel as if we’ve lost control of our own career and future. But you can empower yourself and by making your current role work for you. “Use your position as a platform to learn new skills, take company sponsored courses and take on projects outside of your job description in order to improve your value, both for yourself and your current and future employers,” says Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Building An Outstanding Career (Piatkus, £13.99).‘The best way to become more powerful at work is to go above and beyond of what's asked of you. Offer to help colleagues and by making their lives easier, you become indispensable, learn more and build a stronger network that will allow you to call the shots’. If money is the issue, consider what else your employer can offer, adds McGregor. ‘Not everything is about money. Flexible working, for example, or working from home might be valuable to you too.’  

4. Be prepared “Recession is when a neighbour loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.” Ronald Reagan

Often, the root of our work fear is the idea that we could lose our job. What position would you be in if you lost your job tomorrow? Your immediate concern might be money and lack of it will affect your outlook so if this is a worry for you, start a rainy day fund. It’s not just about the practicalities of reassuring yourself you have food and shelter covered – finding temporary work or having a small amount of savings will give you the cushion of time that you need to decide what to do next. ‘I call it “running away money”,’ says Lesley Garner, author of Everything I’ve Ever Done That Worked (Hay House, £8.99), who lost a job 20 years ago and says she is still learning lessons from it. Eventually, she came to see it as an opportunity but losing your job is a shock and you need that space to think. ‘Panic shuts the brain down’, says Garner, ‘and it’s very difficult to change on a sixpence. Imagine you’re moving house – you’ve emptied your sock drawers into a box but for the next week before you move you keep going back to find your socks, expecting them to be there. If you’ve done something one way for a long time the memory is almost bodily – your mind cannot do things another way.’ Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to get used to the feeling of insecurity and start saving now so you have the luxury of time to change if the worst happens.  

5. Challenge your thinking, act ‘as if’ “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Maya Angelou

‘Have you heard of the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR)?’ asks Carole Ann Rice, one of the authors of Find Your Dream Job (Marshall Cavendish, £12.99). ‘If you’re feeling scared, take a reality check. Is your fear real? Is it true your boss is dismissive to only to you? Aren’t they like this with everyone?’ It could be that you are over-catastrophising your current situation, she says. ‘Decide to put on a positive front with all you come in contact with. Act “as if” you were confident and successful and observe what happens,’ she says.  

And if all else fails…  

Pre-order Matt Potter’s new book, out early in 2014,  F*** You and Goodbye, The Dark, Moving & Often Hilarious History Of The Resignation Letter (Conatable, £12.99).

More inspiration:

Watch Becky Walsh's How to stop fear stopping you on LifeLabs