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Is Scarcity Killing your Work Culture?

What is scarcity in the workplace? In the most basic of terms it is the awareness that there isn’t enough to go around- the thought that there is only enough for one and not for all. In the past, this philosophy was supported, even trained, because leaders at the time were so focused on creating competition.

I think about the famous quote from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, "always be closing." This competitive mentality has driven organizations for decades - with many believing it would drive employees to work better, harder, and produce more. The irony is this practice had the opposite effect; it created a scarcity culture with devastating consequences, such as poor communication, silos, and maybe the worst, psychological insecurity. All of these lead to lower productivity, increased unscheduled absences, and increased employee turnover.

According to an SHRM article, poor communications costs a company with 100,000 employees roughly $62M per year. For smaller organizations with 100 employees, reports show an average cost of $525K per year. Whether you are a small or large business, it is a hefty price tag and is definitely not the most effective way to inspire productivity, creativity, or innovation. Scarcity stifles the ability of organizations to grow and stay competitive.

The negative impact of silos is felt around the entire business. In my experience silos, might be, the best way to ensure you will spend more to solve a problem than what is necessary because silos prevent teams from seeing a clear picture of what other departments are doing.

I have seen one team attempt to “fix a problem” another team is already working on. I have also seen a team “fix a problem” impacting their group and creating absolute havoc for other teams. Scarcity forces people into their collective corners where they become less concerned about the organizational goals or about the impact their decisions may have on others. They focus solely on what they need to do to make sure they look good in an effort to make certain they are always in the "getting" seat.

When you have poor communication combined with silos, it creates the perfect breeding ground for psychological insecurity. Why do psychological safety and insecurity matter at work? Because every single organization wants teams to perform at their peak.

The lack of psychological safety ensures your employees will not critically think about how to improve, they won’t impart their creativity AND they will continue to operate as they always have - taking the safest roads to avoid the potential of being called out or humiliated. Psychological insecurity guarantees no organizational innovation and a business without innovation is dead.

Here are four easy ways to kick scarcity out of your organization.

  1. Stop the blame game. When challenges are identified, instead of asking “who did this or that,” ask for internal reflections on what collectively the team, including the leaders, can do to create a different experience or outcome the next time.

  2. Create an environment that thrives on feedback. Feedback should NEVER be punitive. Foster a space that appreciates continuous improvement as much as you do the outcomes. Celebrate not only winning outcomes, but lessons learned from failures.

  3. Don’t weaponize budgets. Budgets should be allocated based on the business goals. There should be crystal clear communication at how the organization is spending money and direct links back to how the money is used to accomplish organizational objectives.

  4. Exercise gratitude. Being thankful for all that is happening - good or bad - reminds us that nothing is all that bad. The ability to focus on wins changes the mindset of teams from despair to hope. Open and close meetings with moments of gratitude, highlighting positive experiences between colleagues, vendors and customers.

Want more tips on how to keep employees inspired, creative and innovative? Let's connect.


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