Dear Dave -- I am a manager at a company that was hit quite hard during the pandemic. We almost went under, and we were fortunate enough to secure some investors and some sales contracts to keep us alive. Like so many other companies, we had to tighten up our costs and this meant that we had to lay off some good people. Those of us who kept our jobs are afraid that hard times could hit us again and soon. We are anxious and stressed. And this is impacting everything we do and think about. I know we need to be careful, but I don’t want to work in a state of paranoia. Help!

My father always told me that if you live in fear, you will make more mistakes than you would if you boldly tried to overcome adversity and met danger head-on. Simply, living in fear is no way to live and working in a fear-based culture will only make everyone nervous and jumpy – increasing the likelihood that errors will occur.

I believe the opposite of fear is faith. It is a positive outlook that is created and maintained by trust, hard work, a determined state of mind, and – in your case – a culture that thrives on energy and constructive emotions. I think managers can create and sustain positive work environments by leading with courage, as opposed to falling to pieces every time something negative crops up.

Whether we realize it or not, we look to our leaders for guidance and strength in tough times. And if all we see are managers that crumble under pressure and lose their emotional grip, we will follow suit and crumble right along with them. Conversely, if our leaders are “mission-focused” and believe in building the strength of the workers and the company, there is a greater chance that good things will happen.

In his book “Good to Great” Jim Collins coined the concept of “The Doom Loop.” In short, if we live and work in gloom and doom, there is a greater likelihood that we will only add more gloom and doom to our already deteriorating attitudes and behaviors – gloom and doom breeds more gloom and doom. The downward spiral will result in shared defeatist thinking and will be detrimentally self-nurturing.

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However, if we can slam on the brakes and stop the doom and gloom through positive thinking and actions, the loop will become a positive flow of confidence and optimism fueled by even more confidence and optimism. Your fearless and strategic leadership creates hope, enthusiasm, and determination.

If managers want to help their company and their workers, they need to make a conscious decision about how management wants to be seen and heard each day. If a manager walks into the workplace – whether it is within company walls or in front of valued customers – with nothing but paranoia and a “We’re all going to die” outlook, guess what? The individual workers, teams, and even the customers will follow suit.

Here are a few tips for managers for overcoming gloom and doom by injecting positivity into the work environment and reducing the negative emotions and actions of workers caused by the paralysis of fear.

Lead with your strengths and not your weaknesses. Determine what you do best and how you do those things. Often, employees are very aware of those things that can produce progress or throw a wrench in the works of achievement and productivity. However, they are fearful and fail to bring them up to management. You can’t blame some workers for being “doom loopers” because the entire culture of their company may be one where negativity and defeatism thrives. Managers must recognize and build skills that will increase the competence and confidence of the employees.

Ensure that company goals are made clear to everyone. And make sure that everyone is working toward the right goals. Company goals should be defined and articulated for clarity and understanding. Teams and individual workers must see how their work fits into the system of tasks and projects of the entire company. The last thing you want to hear from an employee is, “Gee, I didn’t know I was supposed to be doing that!”

Instill purpose and be on the prowl for workers doing excellent work. Recognize workers that perform superior work and always on time. You don’t need to hand these people a check for $500. Sometimes a simple Post-it note or a letter that acknowledges the outstanding performance will motivate workers. Then, during the holidays, provide a bonus to these people. Trust me, if workers hear about these bonuses, they will start working toward them. Your performance reviews should validate whether or not workers deserve the bonuses.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu. Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.