Workplaces are undergoing profound transformations to accommodate the varying expectations of a multigenerational workforce and the increasing influx of artificial intelligence-enabled entities. The inevitable need to maintain robust talent pipelines to assure a healthy supply of capable leaders has galvanized progressive organizations to place greater emphasis on effective talent development and employee engagement activities. However, the sobering reality of shrinking positions that can productively and profitably use human talent is increasing fears of workplace insecurity and incentivizing “career cannibalization” of peers by ambitious professionals. Consequently, the adage of survival of the fittest has permeated the digital world with a renewed ferocity. Therefore, it is becoming imperative for mindful professionals to harness their fears and devise effective strategies to chart their careers on a more robust and fruitful course. The following analytical tool can facilitate the respective self-assessment:
- Do you fear being wrong in your views/perspectives/approaches/insights?
- Do you fear being marginalized/ignored/neglected by the majority of your peers, even though you are right in your views/perspectives/approaches/insights?
- Do you fear that being correct most of the time might open the door for a big failure in the future and tarnish your stellar reputation cemented on past accomplishments?
- Do you fear the inability to formulate a convincing argument when encountering stiff resistance from skeptical quarters?
- Do you fear your current professional skill set does not have a high probability of a promising career?
- Do you fear working for a different employer?
- Do you fear switching career paths to meet the evolving demands of the digital world?
- Do you fear layoffs/early retirement due to the evolving demands of the digital world?
- Do you fear being forced to become entrepreneurial to achieve/sustain a respectable living in the digital world?
- Do you fear the skill set of your peers might propel them ahead of you in terms of climbing the corporate ladder?
- Do you fear taking challenging assignments that can jeopardize your promising career prospects in case of failure?
- Do you fear relinquishing a “stable” career in the short term to pursue a riskier option for remaining relevant in the long term?
- Do you fear the increasing encroachment of AI-enabled technology in the workplace?
- Do you fear of being underutilized at your workplace?
- Do you fear of being overutilized at your workplace?
- Do you fear “losing face,” especially, in front of those who look up to you?
- Do you fear that sharing information/knowledge will enable others to surge ahead of you in terms of climbing the corporate ladder, especially if they don’t reciprocate accordingly?
- Do you fear the power/influence of your supervisor(s) on your career prospects?
- Do you fear the detrimental aspects of organizational politics?
- Do you fear having a multitude of fears concerning your professional life is significantly affecting your capability to work to the best of your abilities?
These questions should be answered in a simple Yes/No manner and then the tally of Yes answers should be matched on the following FCS scale:
The four categories highlighted in the FCS scale depicted above can be better understood as follows:
This pertains to the normal level of fear a professional experiences at work and should not constitute a cause for alarm. Psychologists often point out that some fear is actually a good thing, and one needs to embrace it in a meaningful way to take advantage of its benefits, such as having higher level of situational awareness, discovering personal strengths and weaknesses, facilitating personal development, etc. It is part of human nature due to the presence of uncertain outcomes in the workplace and the inherent personality characteristics of an individual. Senior professionals with a high EQ (Emotional Quotient) are often found in this category.
This reflects an elevated level of fear that is palpable in a person’s behavior/actions as he or she performs assigned responsibilities. It generally is triggered by the inability to adjust to unfamiliar/pressurized work environment while trying to gain traction within the corporate hierarchy for a promising career path. It is usually noticeable to close colleagues/peers who often act as the “unofficial counselors” to remedy an exacerbating condition that could derail a promising career. Corporate cultures thriving on strong shared values and an effective mentoring approach are best suited to overcoming/alleviating such recurring challenges. New talent/junior professionals often are found in this category.
This pertains to professionals working under profoundly stressful conditions that can be due to a multitude of factors, such as domineering supervisor(s), impending layoffs, team discord, leadership change, disciplinary proceedings, toxic workplace politics, etc. It can significantly dilute a person’s cognizance of self-worth and cause extensive damage to his or her sense of well-being that can manifest in poor job performance. The HR/talent function generally is required to do effective interventions in such situations for curative remedies, preferably proactively, before simmering discontent casts a dark shadow over the entire corporate culture landscape. Middle management often is found in this category.
This reflects a debilitating level of fear that can lead to lingering mental and physical illness if not treated by professionals with relevant expertise, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, etc. It is normally the exacerbation of afflictions resulting from trying to survive in a toxic workplace due to lack of options for switching employers or earning a meaningful living in another way. Generally, the respective employee tends to ignore/suppress/hide his or her worsening condition by masking it with outward jovial displays of conformist behavior. However, such attempts often are detectable by astute observers/coworkers who can discern the deviation from “normal” behavior through various combinations of physical alerts, such as nervous laughter, refraining from proactive peer socialization/professional networking, unexplained sweating, body tremors, frequent stammering, desperate attempts to fit in, working excessive overtime, taking a significant amount of sick leave, inability to voice personal opinion, profound sycophancy indulgence, etc. Unfortunately, a professional who has reached such a stage of fearfulness often is deemed unsuitable or stigmatized for career progression and, more likely, liable for layoff/facilitated exit/termination. However, mismanaging the departure of such an individual can have disastrous consequences as evidenced by recurrence of unfortunate incidences of workplace violence perpetrated by indignant/resentful former employees.
The aforementioned FCS scale also serves as an early warning system for talented professionals who might be neglecting their well-being while feverishly trying to stay relevant in the digital world. Often, such people tend to marginalize health concerns, hobbies, family and friends, old contacts and acquaintances, etc., as they focus on career aspirations by embracing stressful/unreasonable/detrimental working conditions and trying to impress influential sources of power with their professional abilities. However, such transient bonds cannot substitute for the time-tested relationships that generally are needed in precarious situations to provide strong and reliable support for a balanced approach to life and profound self-reflection to recalibrate priorities in accordance with the true passions. Are you listening…?
Murad Mirza has more than 15 years of multi-disciplinary experience in Organizational Development, Talent Management, and Business Transformation as a senior executive, corporate manager, consultant and trainer. He currently serves as a board member with the U.S.-based Global Diversity and Inclusion Foundation.