back to article Full of fear at work: Blame the boss, or yourself?

Fear is a great motivator. Fear pushes adrenaline. It primes our "fight or flight" response. It primes us for a confrontation. Fear shuts down our higher cognitive functions, priming us for a visceral response, on top of which we layer rationalisation. Fear ensures continued survival of our species in times of dire straits. …

  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    When to panic .... and when to stop

    > When we are afraid, we have only our intuition and built-in responses to draw on.

    And we all know that "intuitive" answers, in IT, are frequently wrong and rarely the best choice.

    However, when it hits the fan a good bit of JFDI style panicking can work wonders. So long as it's limited to digging yourself out of the mire. The crucial next step is to know when to stop panicking and start on the first stage of recovery: the witch hunt learning, and ensuring something similar won't happen again.

    However, when organisations are crisis-driven and seem to be continually reacting to one problem or another, then someone - someone very high up - needs to recognise this as a failure of management and to step in (or find a new position).

    The sad thing is, that so many IT shops these days are so hidebound with processes, reviews, buy-in, "quality" (ha!), and all the other buzz-word stages that get between a dam' good idea and making it happen that it's often more rewarding, much less effort and a lot of fun to move the fan closer to the brown stuff - and instead of avoiding problems, let them happen and then be a superhero. After all, who doesn't like a good panic every now and again?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: When to panic .... and when to stop

      I'm not sure a bout of JFDI really helps. It sounds a bit like the old premise:

      We must do something. This is something therefore we must do it.

      Keeping you head when you hit a crisis is a skill and one worth its weight in gold. That ensures you keep the rational part of your brain engaged and thus gets you out of trouble sooner.

      I quite liked this bit from the article:

      "Knowledge-heavy roles (such as IT or management) require learning in order to be effective"

      it kept me laughing for quite some time :-)

    2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: When to panic .... and when to stop

      The sad thing is, that so many IT shops these days are so hidebound with processes, reviews, buy-in, "quality" (ha!), and all the other buzz-word stages that get between a dam' good idea and making it happen that it's often more rewarding, much less effort and a lot of fun to move the fan closer to the brown stuff - and instead of avoiding problems, let them happen and then be a superhero. After all, who doesn't like a good panic every now and again?

      This isn't my experience. In my experience everything goes all to shit, I work my ass off to pull the nose up before it all plows into the ground and there is no "superhero" anything involved. No matter whose fault it is, I get shit on for letting it happen because I'm the one who knew how to fix it, so I was the most visible person involved.

      I don't believe IT staffs want to "be a superhero" to the business. Every single one I've ever met would rather not be noticed at all by the business. They just want to do their thing, collect a steady paycheque and fade into the background. They are the ghosts in the machine. They are rarely seen and never heard.

      The problem with change is "who gets the blame".

      If a bossunit trundles into mission control and declares that X will occur, immediately the nerds put their shields up. Will the time-frame be enough? The budget? Will there be scope for training? What about testing, QA and UAT? The answer is pretty much always "no" to all of the above, and it sure as shit isn't the manager who is going to take the flak when it all inevitably goes pear-shaped.

      IT people can document their concerns, protest, raise flags and otherwise shake the tree about the problems that will inevitably happen, are happening and more. It doesn't matter. They will be ignored as alarmists until it does break, at which point they'll be sanctioned for allowing it to break.

      If you work in IT you simply can't win. The game is rigged from the very start. That is why IT staffs are risk averse. That is why we all fear change. Properly scoped and funded projects run by managers who listen to the techs and understand the importance of adequate time and resources are myths. Fairy tales told to IT techs to keep them in line. "Be good", we're told, "and one day all of this could be yours".

      If you work in IT the only winning move is not to play.

  2. sandman

    Corporate Culture

    I've worked in several companies where failure was simply never admitted to or discussed. I happily remember one meeting where I realised I'd made an error and said "Oops, I've screwed up". The effect was something like I imagine farting loudly in church would be like, I've never seen so many shocked faces. :-)

    I also had the "pleasure" of working in one organisation where the predominant corporate culture was one of fear. Everybody, apart from a couple of people at the top, were terrified of losing their jobs and the whole atmosphere was poisonous, a foetid mix of blame, recrimination and denial of responsibility. I was very glad I was contracting there and could just ignore the internal strife.

  3. Christopher Slater-Walker

    Fear and change are mutually exclusive?

    OK, I understand what you're saying here. Pre-existing fear prevents change, fair enough. But change itself, or the prospect of change, itself can, and often does, induce fear. For change to be successful, people need support and guidance through change as well.

  4. Known Hero


    I'm going with Flight Response !!!

  5. Joe Drunk

    I've contracted for many huge corporations where where this culture of fear was prevalent. On the surface it appears as a great tool for motivating an organization to meet or exceed unrealistic metrics.

    It is utilized by short-sighted management driven by what is perceived as the quickest path to maximum compensation in the form of bonuses.

    The reality is a culture of blame deflection and unnecessary stress. It actually impedes productivity as you spend a great deal of time waiting for replies or approvals in writing (e-mail, never verbal) to proceed with any action that may expose you to castigation. Cover-your-ass is a game you learn to master in such environments. I estimate that an average of 40% of my billable time was spent on just CYA. This is the only way you last.

    Culture of fear and high employee turnover go hand-in-hand. Having to constantly re-train employees doesn't improve productivity in any way.

    The other side of the coin is all this unnecessary stress leads to employees developing health problems - calling out sick frequently, which greatly impedes productivity. Dependence on alcohol or drugs (prescription or otherwise) - The human psyche is like a tea kettle. Once it reaches its boiling point all that pressure has to be released somewhere.

    In my case, I became indifferent and view all those evangelists of this fear culture with pure contempt. The most defective humans I've ever had the displeasure of meeting were prophets of fear. I am sure this opinion is shared by anyone who has spent any significant time in this environment.

    Beer icon because it's Friday and the pub is stress release central.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fear is not great as a motivator. Since fear reduces the ability to learn, those that try to use fear on a long-term basis usually end up with slowing down changes.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We had an issue a few years ago

    A change caused an issue, and the company missed an SLA and ended up getting fined. The head of the team started screaming and shouting and demanded everyone involved was let go. The guy doing the change was booted out of the door, and the same was tried with the guy checking it but he fought back.

    All of the rest of the team, who looked at it and said no-one did anything wrong on our side of the change, weren't impressed.

    We do several changes a week, all out of hours, the next change to come along got no volunteers to do it, and the next, and the next... The general view was, if I can be fired for something going wrong on a change, whether it's our fault or not, I'm not going to do any anymore.

    The manager involved was not very popular from that point until he left, and he had a nightmare of a time trying to get anyone to volunteer to implement all the changes people were requesting.

  8. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge


    Still the mind-killer

  9. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Don't know

    " Learning through experience and mistakes is necessary in any role that brings about change, whether the goal is figuring out how to convert page views into sales, or transforming your business into a leaner, more effective organisation. "

    Transforming your business into a leaner organization sounds to me like letting go of staff. Good luck managing that without inducing fear.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't know

      "Transforming your business into a leaner organization...induces fear."

      You mean like the NHS?

      The inefficiencies there would never be tolerated in private industry or they'd soon be bankrupt. Oh, they are....

      Jeremy cough Hunt was on the radio this morning trumpeting how some hospitals paid £0.50 for disposable gloves whist others paid £1.27. Why are they not all paying the same price? Have they seriously not heard of economies of scale, or are they (still) just knowingly incompetent?!?

      Becoming a leaner organisation means you have spare capacity to do more - more patients, more throughput, more profit, more whatever. It's not rocket science.

      But you need vision...

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: Don't know

        Now was he talking the same sort of gloves?

        Silicone or nitrile? Nitrile are more expensive but cause less issues with allergies so it's possible he's comparing apples to oranges. Also depends on the application, you wouldn't want thin skinned gloves when dealing with a possibly blood borne infectious diease. So there's more to consider than pure cost analysis (my wife's a dentist and has a selection of different gloves of various prices for different purposes).

        Part of the problem with the nhs is constant change. New practices, more management, new tools constant tinkering by those who don't understand how intricate a hospital is. Yes it's an inefficient beast but it still has better returns on investment than a large number of other countries (USA for one).

        Finally it's not as if jeremy hunt has said anything without an underlying motive to undermine what ever he's in charge of this week... No not at all (the teachers dart board I know of had his face on it by pure chance honestly)

      2. disgruntled yank Silver badge

        Re: Don't know

        Or becoming a leaner organization could mean that the customers get the shaft and management team makes its numbers.

        But I did not post my comment to assert that no organization could or should be made "leaner". Many can and should. I posted my comment because I wondered whether there was in fact thought behind it or we were just getting Bongisms without the facetiousness. I could have picked out the sentence to the effect that fear and change are mutually exclusive. Much change, some of it useful, comes from fear.

      3. KeithR

        Re: Don't know

        "Have they seriously not heard of economies of scale, or are they (still) just knowingly incompetent?!?"

        No,. they've been forced by successive fucking Tory governments into the kind of "every man for himself" activities - including being obliged to throw all of its "business" at the parasitic private sector - that explicitly prevents across-NHS economies of scale from being realisable.

        The Tory fuckers WANT the NHS to fail - remember? So they force the NHS (and the rest of the public sector) into business models that FUNDAMENTALLY work counter to the success of the organisations, while resulting in tax-payers' money being pumped into the coffers of the inept private sector suppliers they're forced to engage with.

        Time and time and time again.

  10. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Was the article written out of fear of not aquiring enough clients to stay in business?

  11. ecofeco Silver badge

    Are you kidding?

    Any place I've ever worked that had fear as the overall culture was as effed-up as it gets in their operational polices and procedures and head-firmly-up-arse supervisors.

    The places that I've worked that embrace innovation, progress and realistic polices and rock solid testing processes had no fear.

  12. chivo243 Silver badge

    First three years

    Count myself lucky. Where I work, you get a one year contract, renewed each year. After you get your third contract, you really gotta screw up to be shown the door. Gross personal misconduct or gross negligence on an epic scale is about the only thing that will show me the door.

  13. Dangermouse 1

    Was that 50p for a pair of gloves or for a box of 100? Just curious cos a box of 100 nitrile gloves costs about £5 on ebay, so if hospitals are getting them for £1.27 or less, they're not doing bad.

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