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Fear of Failure Prompts Workers to Shirk Responsibility

Contact:Jennifer Jones
[email protected]

New York 9/5/2013

NEW YORK, September 5, 2013—Fear of failure or making a mistake often causes employees to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, according to a survey by AMA Enterprise, a division of American Management Association International. This anxiety was found to be the single largest contributor to risk aversion and lack of accountability in the workplace.

Executives, managers and employees from more than 500 U.S. companies participated in the survey.

In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle at your organization to encouraging employees to take greater responsibility?

Fear of being held responsible for mistakes or failures 38%
Problem already ingrained in the organization’s culture 18%
Lack of incentives or deterrents in organizational processes 14%
Senior management’s indifference 14%
Reluctance to make decisions that might impact one’s career 9%
Don’t know 7%

“At the heart of improving innovation and productivity is an ability to empower and motivate employees to take thoughtful or well-reasoned risks,” said Sandi Edwards, Senior Vice President for AMA Enterprise, which provides organizations with assessment, measurement and tailored training solutions. “Until the fear of failing issue is addressed, this will remain a threat to innovation and accountability for results.”

According to the survey, a large percentage of the workforce is now risk-averse. “This may be a trend stemming from the sluggish economy or the weakened job market, but management also plays a significant role in supporting the ability to take risks,” noted Edwards. “Does the organization really encourage initiative or taking risks? Is the failure of a project viewed as a routine part of operating a highly productive business?”

Edwards advised that while someone always needs to be accountable for the outcome, the more critical aspect is how the failure is managed which reflects the organization’s prevailing values. “Leaders who are intolerant of any failure are certainly a factor in why many workers seem to avoid taking responsibility.”

The survey asked participants what steps may be taken to encourage greater responsibility in the workplace:

Support a culture where well-reasoned risk-taking is encouraged 53%
Include accountability as a criterion in performance reviews and goal setting 53%
Demonstrate taking responsibility at the most senior level 51%
Give recognition to employees who take responsibility 47%
Provide training in decision making and problem solving to build confidence in taking responsibility 46%
Establish taking responsibility as key corporate imperative/value 42%
Does not apply 3%

“Great organizations work at cultivating a healthy culture and developing their people to ensure that innovation and accountability go hand in hand,” concluded Edwards. 

The survey was conducted in the spring of 2013 and consisted of 562 senior-level business, human resources, management professionals and employee contacts drawn from the AMA database of contacts.

With more than 90 years’ experience and headquartered in New York, American Management Association International is a global leader of comprehensive talent development. AMA Enterprise, a specialized division of AMA dedicated to building corporate and government training solutions, transforms enterprise-wide talent to fuel a culture of innovation, high performance and optimal business results.

Media Contact:  Phil Ryan, 845-339-7858, [email protected].


AMA is one of the most widely recognized leaders in business training, having provided corporate training solutions for over 95 years. From leadership, communication and managerial training to sales, customer service and analytical skills, AMA has developed a vast array of content and training solutions to help individuals and organizations achieve business results . Each year, AMA delivers thousands of seminars and courses across the United States. With courses offered in a  classroom near you or live online, AMA is a flexible, convenient resource for all of your organization's talent development needs. AMA also offers customized solutions based on your specific talent development requirements.