What Managers Need to Do: Inspire Confidence That the Sky is Not Falling

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Sep 9, 2013

American workers are still worried about the security of their jobs, according to a new Gallup poll.

Even though we’ve technically recovered from the long recession, there are lingering effects for many American workers: They are still afraid of layoffs, benefit reductions, or outsourcing.

Some 43 percent of American workers are afraid their benefits may be reduced, just slightly down from 46 percent in 2009. Of low-income workers making less than $30,000, 44 percent fear potential layoffs.

Unemployment levels are receding and the stock market has rebounded, but the American worker is still troubled about their own personal economy. Why?

What workers fear

I have an idea about that. It may be because as employers, we may not be doing a great job of reassuring them.

Think about it; they hear stories about employers adjusting work hours downward to skirt their obligations under the new affordable health care law, then naturally worry that you may get the same idea. They hear news of layoffs or another company outsourcing their workers, and then worry that they may be next.

You get what I mean: To the employee, the American employer is looking more like “The Man” these days — not so benevolent, and more focused on the bottom line.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when this uncertainty affects behavior. Within the workplace, employees may be less likely to make a bold move for fear it will backfire and cause them to appear less valuable.

Is the sky really falling?

And if employees are afraid to change jobs or try a new career, they’re probably less likely to feel they can spend freely. In fact, they may be more likely to take a chance on a lottery ticket than add on a new car payment. This state of paralysis ripples out to the greater economy.

There are hopeful signs that consumer confidence may improve. Housing values are rising in some areas and people are paying down their debt. And, spending is on its way up, although not back to 2008 levels.

But whether we are genuinely terrified or just stuck in a rut of our own negative thinking, we need to stop projecting it. The Chicken Little-style of management is not helping anyone.

As managers, employers, and leaders, we need to inspire confidence that the sky’s not falling, not perpetuate the fear that it might.