Fear of loss is an emotional response to uncertainty and potential adverse outcomes. It can manifest in various ways, from uneasiness or dread to believing that one’s job might be at risk. It can be triggered when faced with changes to a workplace structure or introducing new processes or technology.
Left unaddressed, the fear of loss can be like a ticking time bomb, a clock that keeps counting down, getting louder and louder in the background. Anxiety can cause a slow erosion of morale and productivity. The distrust and hostility among colleagues create an atmosphere of tension and suspicion that makes it hard to speak openly.
Fortunately, there are steps that employers can take to address the fear of loss in their organizations. They can start by openly acknowledging the uncertainty of the situation and demonstrating a willingness to work with their team members to come up with solutions that benefit everyone.
Not All Change Creates Fear
As I facilitate workshops I am often met with the same response when I pose my two questions: ‘Who agrees that people fear change?’ and ‘Who is like me and only carries a little cash?’. Inevitably, every hand will go up.
At this point, I usually draw a random person from the crowd and hand them twenty dollars, saying, “No strings attached.” I can always see the confusion on their faces at the sudden acquisition of $20, so I reassure them that this is not a trick but that I must ask them a few questions.
“Was that scary for you?” I ask. Usually, they say no.
“But your situation has changed, right? Now that you have money, whereas before, you didn’t.” They always agree.
“We just said people fear change, right? But this wasn’t scary. Why wasn’t this scary?” The answer is almost always that getting the twenty dollars is a positive gain.
Change can be disorienting, but it’s normal and unavoidable. We are all constantly evolving, day by day. What triggers our resistance to change is the fear of loss—of what we have grown accustomed to or of something we have come to rely on. People don’t fear change; they fear loss.
It could be something tangible in our workplace or relationships, like our power or authority, or maybe even a fear of exclusion or retribution. We don’t want to feel these emotions, which are often hidden from us.
What are the Sources of Fear of Loss?
Fear of loss is a typical human response to any change, whether in personal life or at the workplace. To effectively manage change, it is essential to understand the sources of fear of loss, which can include the following:
Loss of safety or stability: Change can be unsettling, creating unease and insecurity in team members’ hearts. Worries may surge, wondering if their job will remain or if they will remain in the same role. Will the company maintain its current direction and leadership? To ease these fears, the organization must be open and frank about the change process and provide details, so everyone understands what to expect.
Loss of familiar norms or routines: Familiarity is a source of comfort and security for many people. We can feel disoriented when we’re suddenly forced out of our routines. For example, anxiety and stress can occur when a team member’s work schedule or location is altered. To make the transition easier, organizations should provide advance notice, offer training and support, and build new routines and structures to help team members adjust.
Loss of comfort or predictability: When faced with change, team members can feel overwhelmed and uneasy – like the comfort of their workspace, team dynamics, and company policies are slipping away. Organizations can provide essential support to ease their fears: counseling services, stress management workshops, team-building activities – whatever it takes to help them adjust. This is how we prepare for the future – together.
Strategies to Help Offset the Fear of Loss
Change can be a daunting transition for team members. Uncertainty and insecurity can plague their minds and make the transition even more difficult. Organizations must develop effective strategies to help workers adjust and feel secure throughout the shift. Here are some ideas to help team members cope with change:
Provide clear and consistent communication about the change process.
Team members deserve to know what is going on at the company. They should see the status of projects, why and how changes are happening, and what it means for them. Team members trust managers who keep them informed of issues as they arise. Transparency breeds a sense of community and is more likely to garner loyal team members who won’t leave for greener pastures when the grass around other businesses looks better.
Offer opportunities for team member input and feedback.
Invite your team members from their cubicles and offices into a room. Open up a space for them to speak. Allow them to think of ideas and believe they could make a difference. Share with them that their response matters, and ensure they know you mean it. Let them into your world. Give them respect, and watch as they grow roots in your office. Make it known that their response has worth, and watch as they thrive.
Create a supportive and inclusive work culture.
We should value diversity and inclusion at work as we do in our communities. All team members should feel welcomed and valued, regardless of background or life situation. We should treat each other with equal respect and not let judgment guide our actions. Our workplace culture should reflect the diversity of thought in our world, with flexible policies and a commitment to inclusivity.
Encourage open and honest communication about fears and concerns.
We want to ensure that every team member feels comfortable and safe coming to their supervisor or Human Resources with questions, worries, and anxieties. Communication channels must remain open so staff members can feel heard and know their voices matter.
Offer resources and support for managing stress and anxiety.
As the winds of change blow, we must give our team members the resources and support to cope. We can give them the tools to brave these challenging times from counseling services, stress management workshops, and individual access to a team member assistance program.
How to Address the Fear of Loss at Work
It’s crucial to tackle the fear of loss in the workplace to ensure it’s a positive and productive space, especially during times of transition.
To turn things around and make the most of our team members’ talents, we must be willing to face the fears that are causing their worries. Job uncertainty can mean a decrease in morale, a lack of motivation, and a lower level of productivity for the entire organization. By adequately addressing these issues, staff members can be more engaged and energized, bringing actual returns for the company.
Left unchecked, fear and insecurity can lead to substantial losses for organizations. But when employers take steps to acknowledge the unease of their team members and provide the necessary support, they can often retain valued talent, preventing costly turnover.
Fear of loss can dim the light of a successful transition. Still, it is a challenge that must be faced for an organization to reach its desired growth and success. Armed with coping strategies and understanding, organizations can help their team members bravely embrace the necessary changes for progress and triumph.
Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.
Thanks for walking me through this. It truly is difficult to navigate “loss”. I appreciate you sharing your insight and guidance!