The fear factor in organisations

by Christian Kurmann

Any change can be very difficult for an organisation.  Rejecting these changes may be due to fears of the unknown, loss of future opportunities or personal failure. 



Fear in an organisation is extremely unhealthy, as it destroys potential for growth, learning, competency, knowledge and ultimately the financial results of the organisation. Most people fear the unknown and worry that change will make a situation worse. Therefore, their natural reaction is to reject change.

Employees fear the loss of their jobs, especially during mergers or acquisitions. Some employees will face certain challenges ahead due to increased workloads. An increased workload or different job responsibilities may lead to a fear of personal failure, as they do not have the confidence in tackling a different workload. Leaders must recognise their own anxiety and deal with it before they can support employees or supply the necessary training for their employees. Only when people are at ease and feel safe, secure and trusted, will they feel integrated into the organisation. 

Another reason why employees fear change is due to concern over the disruption of relationships. Many employees enjoy both the work and social relationships of co-workers and customers. Organisational change will inevitably affect both these types of relationships. As technology advances, automation improvements may remove the human element of interaction.

Certain personality types adapt better to change than others. It is extremely important for leaders to be considerate of those employees who are having a hard time coping with the change. Internal politics have a significant impact on how the change is received by employees. Certain employees, who used to be the favourites or stars for example, might not excel as easily in the new organisational setup. This may cause friction. 

Power is a great component of fear. Often power struggles counter genuine productivity and cause unnecessary suffering in the process. Power also has to do with authority, which can be based on expertise knowledge. Lastly, power suggests the ability to influence. Some people have more influence than others, irrespective of their position in the organisation or their level of expertise. 

Power cannot be easily influenced, except through leadership. This is why leadership cannot afford to be dysfunctional. Leaders need to step up and take responsibility by acknowledging their responsibility for creating and often participating in a fear-driven organisational culture. Leaders should consciously choose to communicate positively and in a pro-active manner. They should engage in more open, joint conversations and promote the positive participation of people.


This can be done by employing the following basic facilitation skills:

building connecting relationships;


asking questions that increase trust; 

promoting dialogue.


This new tendency within organisations is Mindful Leadership. This implies leadership from within, rather than from the top down. In Mindful Leadership, leaders learn to meditate or find relaxation methods in order to focus on what is really going on, rather than what they perceive to be going on. Instead of instructing people, leaders need to win employees over so that they can experience, explore and observe within themselves to discover their own unique potential. Mindful Leadership is literally stepping back and facing your challenges with a clear focus, ensuring that your reactions connect with your deepest values.

Leaders must pay attention to the current moment or problem, recognising their feelings and emotions and keeping them under control. That way they are able to both observe and participate, while recognising the implications of their actions on others for the longer term. That way they will stay true to their own values. 

Leaders can only inspire employees by learning to let go of control, so as to allow them to take up their own responsibilities and show their capabilities – resulting in management trust and confidence. This will create a comfortable, positive atmosphere which will motivate people to develop, grow and strive for even better results. The roles of individuals, teams and leaders are strongly connected. If based on courage, the impossible will become possible. 

Therefore leaders have to start working on creating organisational courage, overcoming personal fears, and acquiring the competencies needed to build trust. Leaders must be fully aware of their role, behaviours and the ways in which they communicate.

Leaders must focus and dissipate the fear – there is no room for fear in organisations.

Christian Kurmann