Surviving the cuts: fight, flight or freeeze

Could the Government's cuts prompt a primitive reaction among workers, counteracting its efficiency drive?

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Amid all the speculation over the financial impact of the government's
impending cuts, we move now to the human fall-out. And we can apparently
expect people's primitive survival instincts to kick in once the axe
starts to swing.

Business psychologist Catherine Hayes reckons the fear of job loss will
kick public-sector workers into one of three types of adverse behaviour
- flight, fight or freeze. It's the work of the old lizard brain, the
primitive part of our thinking apparatus that told us, back in the days
of hunter-gathering, to either scrap or scarper, or to simply foul
yourself and get it over with. Although back then it would've kicked in
at the site of a betoothed predator, not someone saying they no longer
have enough rabbit pelt to pay you for your public services.

Each of these traits will apparently manifest itself in the modern
employee in a different way: while those with a freeze tendency will
bury their heads in the sand and hope it goes away, flighty types will
become 'distrustful, volatile and risk averse' and fighters, meanwhile,
will become 'aggressive, confrontational and impulsive.' (Any sceptics
of this primitive model just need to see how Wayne Rooney has reacted to
his current employment troubles for a prime example.)

Of course, anyone who winds up booted out of a secure job will react in
some form, so such revelations are hardly lizard-mind-blowing. More
noteworthy is Hayes' point about the implications: that such reflexes
will potentially render government efficiency drives worthless. She
argues that many of the people responsible for efficiency decisions will
be heading for the chop themselves, and will therefore also be affected
by experiencing such primal reactions. The result, she says: poorly
thought out cuts and more bad decisions.

Hayes' solution is to practise 'mindful leadership' - an ability to
'deal with difficult relationships and conflict, the use of effective
judgement to make decisions, the translation of different concepts into
practical actions and the transformation and development of high
performing teams'. In other words, tame your lizard brain entirely.

Then, once the danger is averted, we assume, quietly join the dole queue
with the rest of the tribe.

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