Fear Sells

If fear appeals are so effective, why not use them to promote employee benefits and wellness programs?

Marketers and advertisers use a psychological technique called a fear appeal to elicit consumer actions. Such appeals can be overt, like the fear of death. Or subtle, like the fear of body odors.

You’ll be rejected.
You’ll kill your baby.
You’ll die.

The cognitive dissonance created by fear might seem like a counterintuitive tactic, yet years of consumer research show that fear appeals:

  1. Grab attention to generate action quickly. For example, fear appeals are commonly used in health campaigns to discourage harmful behaviors like smoking or unhealthy eating habits.
  2. Induce vulnerability to create memorability. Fear appeals can make people feel vulnerable to. The impact of feeling vulnerable to specific risks or dangers can lead to making a change or a purchase that relieves those uncomfortable feelings.
  3. Highlight negative consequences to encourage behavior change. For instance, fear-based advertising in the automobile industry often highlights the dangers of not using seat belts to promote safe driving behavior.

So, if fear appeals are so effective, why not use them to promote employee benefits and wellness programs?

It is generally considered unethical and unproductive to use fear-based persuasion on employees. And for good reason. 

  1. Employees are a captive audience and must interact with your messages. This is a vulnerable position that employers should treat with respect. 
  2. While fear has been proven effective in leading to action, it has also been proven to have a detrimental effect on morale, productivity, and overall well-being. 
  3. Organizations that resort to fear-based tactics as a means of motivation run the risk of creating a toxic work environment and ultimately undermining employee satisfaction and performance. 

While it might be fun to think about creative (even scary) ways to get employees to participate in benefits and wellness programs, education and a focus on positive messaging is still the best approach to creating a positive work environment that fosters mutual respect and employee engagement. 

If you need help strategizing and creating great communication (except frightening employees) contact Smith. Employee communication is what we do. 

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