Did the Great Recession fuel a continuing climate of fear in the workplace?

Edvard Munch's "The Scream" (1893)

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1893)

According to economists, the Great Recession is officially over, having “ended” sometime during 2009-2010. However, its negative shock waves continue to impact world economies, labor markets, and the experience of work. Among the most costly and underreported effects is how the Great Recession has enabled some employers to stoke an ongoing climate of fear in the workplace.

British psychologist and consultant Sheila M. Keegan, in her thought-provoking new book The Psychology of Fear in Organizations (KoganPage, 2015), suggests that even though the “recession has eased, . . . its psychological effects may well be with us for some years to come.” In fact, she offers the possibility that “just as the Second World War shaped the attitudes of a generation, so too the recent recession will shape the attitudes, behaviours and fears within organizational life for some decades to come.”

This does not bode well for the current state of our workplaces. In her Preface, Dr. Keegan states:

There is a considerable body of research that points to the rise of fear within organizations and indeed a climate of fear that is widespread and contagious. Employees feel fearful of job loss, of being demoted, bullied, shamed or humiliated. This level of fear can become self-sustaining so that it is difficult to separate the causes of fear; fear at work becomes normalized.

I’ll have more to say about this excellent book in a future post, but for now let’s center on the effects of the recession on psychological health in the workplace. Keegan is spot-on in her assessment: We’ve seen evidence, for example, that bullying-type behaviors tend to be more frequent in recessionary economies. We also know that this recession has led to massive job losses and continuing fears of unemployment. Less humane employers have played on workers’ fears by trying to squeeze every ounce of work out of them, while freezing or cutting their pay and benefits. Intentionally generated stress and anxiety are everyday parts of too many work lives.

Some might say that people simply have to suck it up and deal with it. Tough economic times are just that, right? Generally speaking, personal resilience is a good thing, but especially if the Great Recession has left a long-term psychological imprint on the workplace, then we need to talk about comprehensive responses and changes. Ultimately, we need to prompt a paradigm shift that puts human dignity at the center of our systems and practices of employee relations.


Related posts

Our economic systems, psychopathy, and bullying at work (2014)

Making human dignity the centerpiece of American employment law and policy (2014)

Suicide and the Great Recession: Will we heed the tragic warnings? (2013)

For more on the links between recessionary economies and workplace bullying, go herehere, and here.

6 responses

  1. Excellent posts….Recession has only exposed the dark side of humans in workplace. I am going to share the devastating effects of workplace bullying that has ruined careers and families, on my blog.

  2. I think that the uncertainty has affected managers perception and attitude about their job security. Insecurity leads to bullying and purging of threats. So, I will like to read more of the book, but I agree job and economic uncertainty is fertile ground for abusive behavior as well as tolerance of such behavior.

  3. Reblogged this on Thrive_At_Life: Working Solutions and commented:
    David Yamada and I are like minds. This country needs to put human dignity at the center of our employee relations. One of my business HR mentors stated that employees are “our greatest asset.” When treated with dignity, with actions that consistently display dignity, you earn their trust and increase their productivity. And I have never seen how badly trust has taken a beating with nurses. For the nurses surveyed in my dissertation, one question seemed so pivotal to me: When faced with stressful work situations, I trust the management to look out for me at the place where I work. Of the 80 nurses who answered the survey, 42.5% (n = 34). How administrators, doctors, and nurse leaders act towards their staff matters. Ruling with fear is not the way to building a healthy workplace.

  4. Pingback: Did the Great Recession fuel a continuing climate of fear in the workplace? | Substantial Disruption

  5. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on how I can make a difference in the workplace, and this is speaking to me. I really want to help change this. I know there are many life and career coaches out there that want to help people leave their jobs, soul-sucking or otherwise, and try to make it on their own, and I’m all for that. And, I know there are people who have no desire to be a freelancer or entrepreneur and truly want the day job, or don’t have the means or support to go out on their own. I’m wanting to create my own career, and I’m wondering how I can help in this area? Thank you David Yamada for posting this. I’ve been quietly reading your blog for years and decided to speak this time. Going to Amazon to order the book.

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