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How to manage the 7 biggest workplace fears

Sarah K. White | July 29, 2016
Everyone's experienced some level of stress at work, and chances are, it's stemmed from one of these seven workplace fears. However, managers can ease those fears.

Workplace stress is common, and at some point in your life, it's likely you'll feel the pressure that can come from maintaining a career. Experiencing anxiety at work is ultimately bad for everyone. Consistent anxious feelings in the workplace can actually lead to underperformance and affect the relationship between employees and their co-workers and managers.

Scott Steinberg, bestselling author of Make Change Work for You, cites research around the seven common types of fear people report feeling in the workplace. These fears not only stand in the way of professional development, but they hamper creativity, innovation and business growth as well, according to Steinberg.

Elaine Varelas, managing partner at Keystone Partners, a company focused on career management support and talent management, has seen employees fall flat due to fear of failure at work, and offers suggestions for both employees and managers to tackle these pesky workplace fears.

Fear of failure

We don't live in an ideal world, and that means sales fall through, initiatives go ignored and metrics aren't always met, says Valeras. But, she also points out that you can learn a lot from failure -- in fact, one company purposefully creates failure scenarios as a way to grow and learn. Valeras says, if anything, it's how organizations respond to, deal with and eventually move on from failure that can be the most telling about their overall success.

And, she says, it's not always on the employee to manage a fear of failure at work. Part of that responsibility lies with managers as well. Managers need to ask themselves a few questions before assigning a new task or project to an employee -- whether or not they're ready, for example. Or if their skillset is a good match and whether or not the employee is already overwhelmed with their current workload? She says that managers need to ensure employees always feel they have an open line of communication to ask for help or guidance and make sure failure is seen as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow.


No one likes to be embarrassed and that's especially true at work. It can be as simple as a "foot-in-mouth moment" with a client, copying the wrong person on a sensitive email. Varelas says that your feelings of embarrassment at work can oftentimes feel more augmented than they might at home or at a party with friends. "No employee wants to be embarrassed in front of their managers and colleagues -- and they often see recovery as impossible. As a result, people avoid risk to avoid embarrassment, which minimizes learning."

But studies show that embarrassment can be a positive emotion, even at work. Or, at the very least, it can lead to positive outcomes. One study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that embarrassment helped strengthen trust in relationships. Subjects showed greater feelings of trust for those who expressed embarrassment and were even more likely to want to get to know that person and associate with them. Embrace those embarrassing moments, laugh about them with friends and colleagues, learn from your mistake and maybe even get a little closer in the process.


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