How To Conquer Your Biggest Work-Related Fears

You aren’t alone in worrying about falling short at work, but these steps can help you get your confidence back.

How To Conquer Your Biggest Work-Related Fears
[Photo: Flickr user Erik Starck]

The office can be a hotbed of challenges. At best, they prompt us to push forward and advance our careers. At worst, the attendant angst can reduce a chance to triumph into a cause for fear.


There’s plenty to be afraid of, according to the annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears. Although they didn’t rank as high as government corruption or cyberterrorism among the more than 1,500 respondents, the top personal fears are “heavily based in economic and ‘big brother’-type issues.” said Christopher Bader, PhD, leader of the team effort. “People often fear what they cannot control,” he said in a statement, “and technology and the future of our economy are two aspects of life that Americans find very unpredictable at the moment.” Nearly a quarter (23.8%) fear losing their jobs, while 28.4% fear public speaking.

Within the workplace, it gets a bit more complex. Heidi Golledge, founder of CareerBliss, tells Fast Company that among the millions of users who offer feedback on its jobs platform, the following fears ranked highest:

  1. Fear of falling short of a manager’s expectations
  2. Fear of not fitting in at work
  3. Fear of losing their job
  4. Fear of settling for their job
  5. Fear of being stagnant

Some of these mirror the personal fears found in the Chapman poll. Golledge says some of these fears aren’t based in reality. “Many folks have nightmares about [losing a job] regularly, even when their work performance is stellar,” she says. And the rise of social media has made people hyper-aware of others’ perceived success. “Are others passing them by both outside work and inside their company?” she says. “The easy ability to see friends’ and strangers’ lifestyles, the feeling that others are learning new technologies, going on better vacations, and climbing the corporate ladder better than you, is pervasive in folks who feel stuck at a certain level at work,” Golledge explains.


Fast Company columnist Harvey Deutschendorf reminds us to take Eleanor Roosevelt’s counsel to heart:


You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Easier said than done when you’re standing outside the conference room door, quaking with anticipation before a big meeting/performance review/presentation. So we polled the experts to get some helpful tips to quell the fear before it takes over and thwarts our opportunity to shine.

Normalize And Name

The first thing to realize is that–no matter what the situation–it is perfectly normal to feel this way. You are in good company, judging by the results of these surveys. So seek out some support among your colleagues. Deutschendorf recommends acknowledging your feelings and sounding them out to others. This takes a great deal of the sting and power out of fear, he explains, because keeping it bottled up makes it bigger than it needs to be.

Read More: 7 Ways To Face Your Fears Of Striking Out On Your Own



“Being confident and trusting your skills, abilities, and team will empower both yourself and your colleagues and will contribute to a more encouraging and reliable work environment,” says Golledge. Open the door to team communication with a weekly or daily meeting, she advises, grab a cup of coffee with your boss, or set aside time to check with your team to learn how you can communicate more effectively. “By opening dialogue, many of the fears we have can be eliminated,” she maintains.

Take Baby Steps

Doing something new can strike fear in the hearts of the most intrepid risk takers. That’s when dipping in a toe at a time can be better than jumping in all at once. Deutschendorf recommends breaking a big risk like striking out on your own into smaller bits that still help move you in the direction of your goal. Maybe you can start helping someone who is doing what you want to do on a part-time basis, he says, before giving up your full-time job.

Face Down Failure

One of the biggest obstacles to achieving our goals often boils down to a fear of failure. This comes cloaked in a variety of excuses such as, “I don’t have time,” or even, “I can’t because I don’t know how . . . ” That’s when entrepreneur Faisal Hoque says to remember that regrets are worse than failures. “If only I had” or “I wish I had” can be powerful motivators.


“Once we shift our mind-set from being the victim to being the bold one who wants to achieve their destiny, we have to take action,” Hoque says. “When we are scared, often we fill our days with busy work to avoid real issues. This avoidance through being busy justifies our lack of progress. To move forward, we must stop spending our valuable time on mundane activities.”

Read More: 7 Methods to Overcome Your Fear Of Failure

Resisting Resistance

When we fear failure or worry that we are inadequate at our job, we often have the urge to take everything on ourselves in an effort to prove our worth. Carson Tate says that the first step to effectively let go and delegate –which boosts productivity and builds better teams–is to understand the psychological roots of our avoidance. “Ask yourself what you lack faith in,” she writes.


Then she advises looking at the task or project to determine which parts bring you the most joy, rather than a sense of duty. “This liberating exercise will help you get clear about your value and the unique contributions you make to your organization,” Tate says. “And separating the essential tasks from the ones you can consider passing on to others will also help silence that voice in your head telling you that you must do it all,” she adds.

Read More: The Three Most Common Fears About Delegation Debunked

Relax And Have Fun

Fear sets us up to expect to have to be the best/smartest/most skilled at everything we do. Scientific research proves that this is a common human condition based in our ancestral need to forage and survive that emphasizes performance rather than learning.


In new situations, this dynamic is particularly in play, says Babson College professor Keith Rollag. So give yourself a break from that, he advises.

Remember that our brains have evolved to see new situations as far more risky than they are these days. Even if things don’t go as well as you hoped, the outcome is rarely fatal, and one of the nice things about our crowded, dynamic world is that there are always other people, groups, and opportunities to pursue.

Related: Are You The Cause Of Your Own Stress?

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.