Workplace fear is almost like a plague. Once it gets into a specific company, business or association it can spread almost uncontrollably. It starts like a little sniffle. Maybe Grant has it on Monday. His co-workers notice it but do nothing to protect themselves. By Wednesday it has spread to the next cubicle and by the following Monday half the company is infected.

I know this sounds dramatic but it happens in companies big and small all of the time. Workplace fear becomes an even bigger problem when no one on the management team notices.

Managers are seldom taught how to detect or treat workplace fear. Instead they are schooled in the operations side of the business. They know how to make a product, or how to supervise the technical parts of making the product. The know how the assembly line works, they understand how to put the product together and other managers know how to sell it.

In some businesses there is no product, only a service. Managers are adept at getting the paperwork in proper order, getting the reports and projections prepared and scrutinizing the performance data.

But what about those people who are actually supposed to be producing the product or delivering the service? What are they thinking and feeling on a daily basis?

Oh, you think that isn’t important! What a mistake.

Fear affects performance, productivity and personal satisfaction. Those are three criteria that are necessary to have a top-flight workplace. If even one of those is missing a company is maximizing the value of its employees.

Fear can be debilitating. There is no question that fear can bring about a short-term boost in energy. The concept of freeze, flight or fight demonstrates this phenomenon. But unless you are a football team on the goal line in the last seconds of the game you are going to want more than a short burst of energy. You don’t want a sprint; you want a marathon.

Instilling fear in your employees has negative effects on every aspect of your business from production to integrity.

Managers must strive to create a workplace that fosters trust, harmony and cooperation. Creativity is quashed in a workplace of fear. Confidence disappears when the workplace is not safe. Full potential is never found in a workplace where fear is the norm.

Learn to be observant. Learn to listen to what your employees are telling you. A good employee wants the company and everyone in it to succeed. They can’t concentrate on that in a workplace filled with fear.

Don’t let workplace fear go from a sniffle to an epidemic.