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Are Managers Scaring Employees Away?

Micromanagers, Threat Makers, Fearmongers…the witches and goblins out and about this Halloween have nothing on these nightmarish workplace ghouls.

A 2018 study suggests that managerial pressure tactics are associated with higher employee turnover rates. Conversely, managers who use inspirational appeals with staff are likely to see lower turnover rates. A key element in the use of pressure vs appeal is the impact on an employee’s level of emotional engagement with the job. We engage with our jobs on an emotional, cognitive and physical level. A job can be emotionally rewarding but not intellectually challenging, or any combination of the three. The study finds that “an employee’s level of engagement is considered a conduit through which managerial behaviors are transmitted and suggest that engagement plays a major role in the extent to which employees ultimately emotionally invest in or withdraw from a job.”


Few of us have the perfect job. Maybe it’s the commute. Maybe it’s the pay. Maybe it’s boring. Maybe it’s physically taxing, like standing all day. But something causes us to stay. A compelling mission. A team that works well together. A supervisor who communicates well, encourages and inspires us. This study suggests multiple ways managerial behaviors significantly impact the degree to which employees are engaged, and ultimately their decisions to stay or go.

Supervisors and managers are expected to get results from their teams. Influence that creates “positive pressure in the direction of change without causing debilitating worry” is what leadership expert John Kotter calls the “Productive Range of Distress” and is the way effective supervisors and managers get results. But let’s face it. There’s good pressure and bad. Pressure – influence – that challenges and inspires employees to reach for a goal that might seem out of reach builds confidence and capability. Pressure that belittles or weaponizes fear results in a timid, hesitant team. Imagine a team meeting with each of the following supervisors at the helm:

A: “We have a critical deadline to meet. It’s going to require everyone to really stretch and take on some new things. That may be frightening but I know we can do it.”

B: “We have a critical deadline to meet. It’s going to require everyone to really stretch and take on some new things. If we don’t meet the deadline, there will have to be some negative consequences.”

Small differences but vastly different outcomes if those two attitudes are consistently reflected in other managerial behaviors and practices.

Observation and supervision are an integral component of a manager’s job. An unwillingness to allow staff to make decisions and take reasonable risks isn’t.

Managing to deadlines or goals and challenging employees to exceed expectations are vital. Threatening an employee is always wrong.

Fear is fun on Halloween when the ghosts are pretend, but the candy is real. Let’s leave it at that.

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