What Is Fear Motivation? And 4 Positive Motivational Techniques To Use Instead

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 26, 2021

Published January 3, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Fear of failure can be a strong motivator, pushing you toward what you want and away from a scenario you want to avoid. However, it is also a negative emotion that can be stressful and not healthy for long-term motivation. Identifying a positive approach to encourage and motivate yourself and your team can take time and research. In this article, we explain what fear motivation is and then share some other, healthier types of motivation to help you inspire your team.

What is fear motivation?

Fear motivation is the internal process of moving yourself away from what you don’t want. Fear is a powerful motivator because it makes us uncomfortable, and we want to move away from that discomfort toward our comfort zone. While it is powerful, the problem with fear motivation is that it can become stressful over time. It can cause paralysis in employees whose fear of being fired, for example, inhibits their ability to perform to the best of their abilities.

Positive motivation theories for the workplace

Instead of using fear, here are some positive motivational theories you can use to inspire members of your team in the workplace:

  • Protection motivation theory

  • Affiliation motivation

  • Expectancy theory of motivation

  • Power motivation

Protection motivation theory

This theory refers to how people cope with or make decisions when they are experiencing stressful events. The theory explains what motivates people to change their behavior to protect themselves from perceived threats. The decision to change behavior is governed by two cognitive processes: the threat appraisal and the coping appraisal. In the first stage, the person assesses how much fear has been evoked because of the severity of the threat.

There are three separate sets of beliefs that fall under the second cognitive process of coping appraisal. The person must believe that a different behavior will reduce the threat, that they are capable of the behavior and that the cost associated with the new behavior isn’t higher than the threat itself.

For example, if you know that you need to overcome your fear of public speaking to qualify for a promotion, your fear of missing out on the promotion has to be greater than your fear of public speaking. While this theory is similar to fear motivation, the employee doesn’t remain in a stressful, fear-induced state. They overcome their fears or move past them to reach a healthier place.

Find out what your team members value and encourage them to be honest with you about any workplace concerns they might have. Encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone in the knowledge that their jobs are secure. Work with them to identify goals and action steps they need to take to achieve those goals.

Affiliation motivation theory

This theory refers to the belief that most people want to belong to a group or organization. It proposes that people have three basic needs driving them: affiliation, power and achievement. Managers use this theory to identify how well an employee is going to contribute to a team goal. People who are motivated by affiliation generally form strong interpersonal relationships, agree with group decisions and identify with the positive characteristics of team members.

You can use this motivation theory by promoting the group’s successes over individual results. You can also create a rewards system where you celebrate team successes.

Related: A Guide to Affiliation Motivation

Expectancy theory of motivation

Expectancy theory refers to the belief that an employee will choose their behavior based on what they believe will lead to the best outcome. Ultimately, this person will choose a path that they believe will give them the best outcome and greatest reward. Apply this theory by setting clear connections between your employees’ performance and the rewards they receive. When distributing rewards, make sure they match the effort of team members.

Related: A Guide to Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Power motivation theory

According to this theory, some people are motivated by prestige and power. They want to make an impact and motivate those around them. While this theory may not apply to all members of your team, you can use it to identify those who are power motivated and make sure you place them in positions where they are most effective.

For example, team members who are power-motivated are ideal for leadership roles where they can increase the morale of the entire team and motivate them to push harder to reach their goals. They are great at delegating tasks to reach goals as a team better.

Knowing that power-motivated people are motivated by prestige, you should make sure you are celebrating all wins publicly, both big and small. Set goals that are achievable but challenging to improve the morale of the entire team when those goals are achieved.

Related: A Guide to Power Motivation

Tips for managing fear in the workplace

Learning to manage and overcome our fears is a skill that can be developed to make us stronger and more resilient. Here are some effective techniques to help you work through your fears in the workplace:

Normalize the fear

One of the most powerful techniques for overcoming your fear is recognizing that what you are afraid of is completely normal and that you are not alone. Talking with coworkers or supervisors who have experienced and conquered fears we have can help boost our confidence and make it easier to move forward.

Look back at previous accomplishments

The things you are afraid of can seem small when comparing them to some of the incredible things you have accomplished. Make a list of some of your accomplishments, and look at that list anytime fear creeps in.

Think about what the result could be

Instead of focusing on the fear, focus instead on what life would look like if you did accomplish that goal. How would you feel? How would your life change? The result could be an increase in salary or promotion from your current position. It could also make you a great candidate for a better role at another company.

Recognize it is part of the process

Think back on other things you have tried. As a child, when you fall you get back up. It’s part of the process of growth. Reframe the fear in your mind and realize that fear and even setbacks are only temporary, even in the workplace. Failing on a work project could result in opportunities for new and better training, potentially creating new opportunities. Volunteering to give a presentation, even if it doesn’t go well, shows initiative and a desire to improve—all things that will impress your supervisors.


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