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Fear of failure is paralysing decision making

“Fear of failure is not unusual, however it can be particularly dominant in organisations that employ ‘old school’ leadership practices”

Fear of failure is paralysing decision making amongst half of U.K. workers, according to findings from O.C. Tanner’s 2022 Global Culture Report. The report analysed the perspectives of over 38,000 employees and leaders from 21 countries around the world including over 2,500 from the U.K.

52 per cent of U.K. employees admit that they are so fearful of being wrong that it severely hinders them from making important decisions at work.  The impact of inaction includes businesses stagnating and lost innovation opportunities.

“Fear of failure is not unusual, however it can be particularly dominant in organisations that employ ‘old school’ leadership practices”, says Robert Ordever, European MD of workplace culture expert, O.C. Tanner. “In such businesses, the leadership team is trusted to make the decisions, the staff then have to implement these decisions and the measure of success comes down to avoiding failure.”

In organisations that nurture modern leadership practices in which leaders advocate for their people and employees are trusted to take risks and learn from every experience, then ‘fear of failure’ is less likely to stifle decision making. In such companies, leaders also model the right behaviours around failure, admitting to their mistakes and treating every unsuccessful experience as a learning opportunity.

The report suggests that more needs to be done by organisations to tackle how ‘failure’ is perceived and dealt with, with a third of U.K. workers (33 per cent) stating that their leaders don’t deal well with failure. A similar number (32 per cent) reveal that when their leader makes a mistake they don’t admit to it. Just under half (48 per cent), highlight that their organisation treats failure as a positive learning opportunity.

Ordever says, “It’s important to alter the conversation around failure, and demonstrate from the very top of the business down, that failure is both a permitted and welcomed part of an innovation culture. You can’t expect employees to innovate and experiment if failure is frowned-upon and criticised. The sooner leaders realise this, the more likely they’ll be to drive idea generation and prevent their organisations from standing still!”

O.C. Tanner’s 2022 Global Culture Report.

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