Factoring the Fear Cognition Scale in the Digital Workplace
Workplaces are undergoing profound transformations to accommodate the varying expectations of a multi-generational workforce and the increasing influx of AI-enabled entities. The need to maintain robust talent pipelines for assuring 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 the shrinking number of roles 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 into the digital world with a renewed ferocity.
Factoring (and Mastering) Our Fears
This makes it imperative for the ‘mindful’ professional to gain the true mastery of their fears to devise effective strategies for charting their careers on a more robust and fruitful course. The following analytical tool is being presented for facilitating the respective self-assessment.
The following questions should be answered in a simple ‘Yes/No’ manner and then the tally of ‘Yes’ answers should be matched on the Fear Cognition Scale (FCS) that follows:
- Do you fear of being wrong in your views/approaches/insights?
- Do you fear being marginalized/ignored/neglected by the majority of your peers, even though you feel right in your views/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 that 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 under-utilized at your workplace?
- Do you fear of being over-utilized 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?
The four categories highlighted in the FCS scale depicted above can be better understood as follows:
This pertains to the normal level of fear that a professional experiences at work and should not be 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 from its benefits (e.g., having higher level of situational awareness, discovering personal strengths and weaknesses, facilitating personal development, etc.). Such fear is part of human nature due to 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 behaviour/actions as he/she performs assigned responsibilities. It is generally triggered by the inability to adjust to unfamiliar/pressurized work environments while trying to gain traction within the corporate hierarchy for a promising career path. It is most noticeable to close colleagues/peers who often act as the ‘unofficial counsellors’ 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 are often found in this category.
This pertains to professionals working under profoundly stressful conditions that can be due to a multitude of factors (e.g., domineering supervisor(s), impending layoffs, team discord, leadership change, disciplinary proceedings, toxic workplace politics, etc.). It can significantly dilute a person’s sense of self-worth and cause extensive damage to his/her actual well-being, which can manifest in poor job performance. In these instance, HR professionals are generally required to intervene, preferably proactively, before simmering fears cast a dark shadow over the entire culture. Middle management is often 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 (e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, etc.). Generally, the respective employee tends to ignore/suppress/hide his/her worsening condition by masking it with outward jovial displays of conformist behaviour. However, such attempts are often detectable by astute observers/coworkers who can discern the deviation from ‘normal’ behaviour through various combinations of physical alerts (e.g., nervous laughter, refraining from proactive peer socialization/professional networking, unexplained sweating, body tremors, frequent stammering, desperate attempts to fit-in, excessive overtime working, significant number of sick leaves, inability to voice personal opinion, profound sycophancy, indulgence, etc.).
Unfortunately, a professional who has reached such a stage of fearfulness is often deemed unsuitable/stigmatized for career progression and, more likely, liable for layoff/facilitated exit/termination. However, mismanaging the departure for such an individual can have disastrous consequences as evidenced by recurrence of unfortunate incidences of workplace violence perpetrated by former employees.
The aforementioned FCS scale also serves as an early warning system for talented professionals who might be neglecting their well-being while striving to stay relevant in the digital world. Quite 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 the time-tested relationships that are generally 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 Salman Mirza is an innovative thinker and an astute practitioner of areas within and associated with the fields of organizational development, talent management and business transformation. He has lived, studied and served in different regions of the world, including the US, Australia, South Asia and the Middle East. Murad has more than 15 years of multi-disciplinary experience and has rich exposure to multiple sectors within the corporate world. Currently, he is engaged as a Board Member with two US-based organizations. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at: Murad Salman Mirza.