At our best, we employees can be incredibly thoughtful, creative, passionate and driven. We volunteer for extra duties, offer to help our overwhelmed teammates, and bring great ideas to our management. Our peers see us as confident and creative, our bosses see us as valuable and dependable, and our customers are continually impressed by our quality of service.
At our worst, we are silent. Detached. Tired. Dismissive. And worst of all, we are afraid.
Fear in the workplace can appear in many forms, however, an often overlooked but constantly present fear is this: diminished value. This occurs when one develops anxiety around the perception of adding less value to the organization or appearing less valuable to our decision makers and/or peers.
Similar to a virus, we are only able to detect this form of fear by its symptoms, as most employees will not express their fears directly.
The absence of creativity and change. Your employees no longer suggest improvements or come up with ideas without being told to and seem resistant or upset by even minor changes. Some individuals may be this way due to their fear of diminished value. Acknowledging improvements or changes, in their eyes, is the same as admitting defeat.
Resistance to updating performance review criteria. If your team or someone on it is putting up a fight to keep performance criteria from updating, it could be a symptom of a fear of diminished value. Changing the way performance is rated can be perceived as an increased opportunity to fail or be passed up by individuals who currently excel at the upcoming changes. Therefore, some may have the fear of becoming less valuable to the organization.
Opposition to collaboration on team projects. Collaboration requires employees to share their skills. If this is actively resisted or viewed as a negative, it could be a sign that your team is afraid they might be “exposed”, which is a symptom of the fear of diminished value. We all have different preferences around group projects versus going solo, however, be on the lookout for behavior that suggests something deeper than just preference.
Avoidance to providing detail on job functions. This can happen when a peer or supervisor asks directly for detail or clarification on a work process or job function. Common responses could be “It would take too long to explain”, or “I won’t bore you with the details”. This kind of avoidance could be a sign that the employee is unwilling to share due to a fear of “parting with knowledge”, and therefore becoming less valuable.
If you’ve noticed any of the above examples on your team, it may be worth it to use the following strategies.
Utilize off-site one-on-ones to encourage openness and transparency. “Value to the organization” can be an incredibly difficult and vulnerable conversation to have with an employee, but the potential for improvement is absolutely worth the effort. Find a comfortable and neutral space to have this discussion, and go into it with an open mind.
Start sending regular “kudos”. Research has proven that handwritten cards or notes that express gratitude and thanks has an immediate impact on morale for the person receiving it. It may seem tacky, but to your disengaged employee, it could make all the difference.
Give them a passion project. We’ve all been handed an assignment that drains our soul, but a good “passion project” could be just what’s needed to turn things around. Encourage your employee to pursue something that genuinely interests them, and you may find that they raise their hand for other more pressing assignments in the future.
The fear of diminished value is something that every employee will experience during their career, and it is the job of the supervisor to detect and mitigate to the best of their ability. Use this as a guide, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.