What is Management by Fear and Does it Work?

What is Management by Fear? Does it Work or is it a Myth?

It's true the pressure to perform is immense on every person and this pressure drives people to go beyond their powers and use such tactics which I believe are unethical. Managing a workforce with use of fear will corrode the capabilities of the talented subordinates. This article seeks to answer the critical question.
Workspirited Staff
Last Updated: Dec 21, 2017
Aggressive Businessman Shouting At Female Colleague
Popularly known as 'Father of Nation' Mohandas Gandhi rightly quoted about power categorizing it in two ways - "One obtained by fear of punishment and other by act of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment". Even though history has taught us lessons that governments managing a country by fear didn't only topple but also lost its existence. Still many companies tend to commit the same mistakes and find the company's reputation in jeopardy. Even though Britishers ruled the whole world, but it was their 'create fear' policy which made them retreat to their country. Present day too, has the same scenario as many managers tend to adopt management by fear as they feel this management style will guarantee them success.

I remember a conversation with my friend who was working in an organization. She told me how she despised going to her dreaded office every morning as her boss was always reprimanding her before the whole office for minor mistakes. Tired of his tirades she was always doing a copycat job rather than being innovative and creative. His 'follow the rulebook' policy made it worse for anyone in the organization to effectively grow. The organization faced a lot of problems like high absenteeism and low retention rate. Such organizations are examples of how an organization can fail to retain the best talent in the industry.

Is this the New Trend?

According to some critics fear is a good motivation factor which results in desired performance. Yes it's true but only in short term this policy may prove to be effective. In long run, the same policy may prove to be lethal for a company's growth. Fear creates an atmosphere of suspicion and anger which is not healthy for any organization. Even though people will work in their current position but only till the time they find another perfect opportunity. Meanwhile, employees tend to follow bureaucratic rules rather than plan a strategy and achieve their goals.

Management by fear has such ill effects on employees and the organization that it takes time to reverse the effect. The most damaging effects experienced in the labor force are lack of interest, employee feeling frustrated, completing work just for the sake of saving one's job, bad mouthing the company name by brand ambassadors (employees), feeling of anxiety and always on a job hunt. This brutal policy has led companies to lose good employees, produce poor styles of managing and has financially drained companies in terms of high training costs, lawsuits and bankruptcy. Employees also tend to have suicidal thoughts, lose self esteem, feel degraded at work and this makes them think of their self interests rather than company's goals.

Threat management is not a new term, it has been used since Victorian times. History is full of such tyrant leaders who tried to control the actions of every person under their reign. These leaders were infamous and were remembered much as monsters. Fear creates myopia which in turn doesn't allow the leaders to forecast and plan the future events. The subordinates are so busy in pleasing their bosses that they tend to become a liability for a company. Their creativity is stifled and they follow the instructions blindly. Employees are just concerned with remaining in the good books of the boss and they are just concerned with blame game and passing the responsibility to others.

Examples of Terror Management

Management by fear has certainly crippled and shook foundations of many great empires. But many managers fail to understand the importance of management by objectives and managing the workforce by good governance. This policy helps the competitor gain a competitive advantage over the company practicing terror management. Some of the examples which I would like to recount here:
  • One of the common issue which most employees feel humiliated is when their boss makes them feel lucky that they have a job. Here bosses typically belittle the subordinates which leads to resentment and eventually failure in executing simple activities.
  • Another issue is of disciplinary process involved while punishing the employee for minor mistakes. I have heard stories from people who have been subjected to cut in the pay because of grammatical errors in the memo.
  • A popular issue is favoritism which is found in all the offices. This is a touchy subject as many bosses tend to favor yes men and this creates rivalry among peers too.
In the end, terror management is supported by most of the managers as they believe it will keep the subordinates on toes and propel them to work diligently. But in reality, the reverse is true, subordinates do work but produce low quality and discourage creativity among their peers too. A manager should be a leader who knows how to produce results not with meek, submissive and broken down employees but with bright, proactive and happy employees.