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Assistant professor of organizational behaviour, Indian School of Business

Creating an organizational culture where employees can freely speak about wrongdoings of their superiors or other wrongful activities is easier said than done, says Nandkeolyar.

In practice, there is an inherent dilemma in achieving this, he says. “On one hand, you are now responsible to speak up, but on the other, if you speak up, then it might go against your control structure. My evaluation will still be done by my boss, but I should be able to speak up when things are going wrong," he adds.

This problem is seen across industries when the difference between the power status of the people involved is huge, especially in medical practice, says Nandkeolyar. “In a lot of operations which go wrong, the problem is that someone who knew what mistake was being made did not speak up," he says.

Organizations that want to achieve this cultural change have to ensure they set up an organization-wide structure which ensures that when an employee says something, it doesn’t come back to hurt them, whether in an administrative or professional manner.

Organizations need to put in place a mechanism for employees to report issues. “Employees should have clarity on who do they report incidents to, how do they report them and when do you report," says Nandkeolyar.

Also, organizations need to set up examples that highlight the significance of speaking up. “Organizations should have success stories to share with employees, stories of how the organization was able to avoid a major problem because of the initiative taken up by some employees to report wrong practices, etc.," he says.

“They also need to highlight the fact the nothing bad happened to the people who took these initiative," says Nandkeolyar. Otherwise people will not speak up and it will remain just a good initiative with no results, he adds. Swaraj Singh Dhanjal


Founder, Enhance Consulting

How to get over fearing your boss? What should bosses do about it?

Seemingly confident employees with caliber also admit fearing their bosses, or in a worst case, having a phobia while dealing with people in senior positions. Careers have got nipped in the bud on account of fears that grips the employee, making them come across as bumbling fools. How well placed is this fear? Or, is this extreme reaction of fear brought out thanks to the manner in which the boss behaves, making them either fumble or just clamp up, all in all ruining their impression and doing damage.

Let’s look at this issue purely from the employee’s point of view. It is critical for them to make a good impression, but when fear knocks and makes them bumble, there is a halo effect of this behaviour which makes the boss assume the worst about them. And all that hard work goes down the drain as the employee comes across as not just fearing their boss, but also losing credibility. So for an employee, a lot is at stake.

From the boss’s point of view, their focus is on getting high quality, meaningful work from an employee while the employee should be open to critique and be able to present her work in a credible manner. But if fear grips them at the moment of truth, where is the opportunity for the employee to provide any kind of a good impression? Strangely, there is less correlation between fearing the boss and the quality of the employee’s output. The work output may be of a very good standard, yet as they say the fear is mostly irrational.

So what brings it on?

We know that how a boss behaves towards his employees has a huge bearing on bringing out the best in the employees, and also determines employees’ reactions. We also know that one bad experience of boss interaction in the past has the propensity to create a lot of self-doubt, and puts people on the back foot. And a humiliating experience goes a very long way to seed irrational fears of dealing with the boss.

They may have no problem in keeping their cool in front of colleagues, subordinates or other senior management, or even their clients. Some seem to have an almost physical reaction as the boss beckons—of their mind going blank, palpitations, or a racing heart. All of it clearly leads to extreme dissatisfaction and can make people take tough decisions. This not only costs the employee or the boss, it proves to be damaging for companies too.

What can the employees do?

•Face the situation—Don’t wish it away. Unless you admit there’s a problem and confront it, you will never be able to conquer it and discover what brings it on.

•Talk to someone—Don’t be macho about it. Talking to someone will make you analyse the irrationality of your fears, and provide you with ways to deal with it.

•Stop being hyper—Look at it in the right perspective. Don’t build it up so much and start fearing your job, your very livelihood, which will give way to extreme stress.

•Believe in delivering your best—Understand what your boss is expecting from you. Work hard to deliver, to meet and exceed his expectations.

•Is he really frightening or are you projecting him to be? For those who fear, this is good starting point.

•Anticipate the worst—What and how will you handle it? Expect the toughest situation, and deal with it in your mind, before you deal with it.

What can the bosses do differently?

•Watch your words and your reactions while dealing with subordinates. Awareness that you could be responsible for bringing it on should make you stop it.

•Attempt one-on-one meetings, as opposed to in a group. As a boss, know your employees; some of them are at their best in a personal setting. Build their confidence.

•Don’t scoff it away; it’s real. Try and recollect when you were in a junior position, and how were you dealt with.

•Believe in them. It’s easier said than done, but believe in giving second chances.

•Have patience with subordinates. Yes, there are serious work and time pressures, but a humane approach can really help.

•Don’t blow your top; good behaviour is desirable. It does an equivalent amount of damage to them and you. Count till 10, and be responsive and not reactive in a situation.

We deal with multiple personalities at work, from fear-based dominating hierarchical styles to more empathetic and collaborative style bosses. Today’s times demand that we get the best productivity from our people. First premise for that is for a boss to get his teams to not just be comfortable, but remain motivated in doing their best, which is certainly not possible under a cloud of fear. Nandita Mathur


Chief executive officer, Srei Equipment Finance

The concept of allowing employees to be more vocal about their thoughts and opinions in front of their bosses is bold and will bring a cultural transformation, says Vyas.

According to Vyas, employees should always be trusted with taking the right call, without the fear of influences from the top. This will not only lead to better execution on the ground, but will also reduce the apprehensiveness in the system.

“We as an organization support entrepreneurship and empowerment. So we try and bring in these ideas for our employees too. Our employees are told to behave like entrepreneurs, so that they can fearlessly take their own decisions," he says.

Vyas gives the example of state governments which have been conducting large-scale summits to attract investors and new ideas. “It shows that we are moving away from the bureaucratic ways of working and are embracing a fresh approach without compromising on regulations," he says.

However, entrepreneurial ideas and a bold attitude do not mean that employees are not accountable for their actions. An organization must always strive to have a solid policy framework and ensure that these policies are properly implemented and monitored, so that discipline is maintained. Vishwanath Nair

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