The Silent Threat of Scarcity Mindset In the Workplace

The Silent Threat of Scarcity Mindset In the Workplace

At a time where innovation and sustainability are paramount, one of the most damaging yet under-acknowledged issues confronting businesses is the prevalence of a scarcity mindset within the workplace. 

This mindset can be such a silent threat to a company’s culture, that no matter how hard you try to instigate change or evolve the way you work; nothing moves. It’s like trying to move forward with your feet stuck in quicksand. Unfortunately, a scarcity mindset is deeply ingrained in our human psyche and can manifest as behaviours and attitudes that hinder progress.

When you’re on the journey of evolving your company culture, the first place for change is within your processes and procedures. After all, these things are operationally obvious. Get better at running meetings, check. Do away with outdated rules and restrictions, check. You can end up going down a long list feeling quite satisfied that all has been changed. 

These areas are also obvious to others in the company. Things that can be seen and experienced. It’s easy to put a name to what’s changed. 

But what ends up at the bottom of the list, or sometimes never coming onto the list in the first place, is the collective mindset that exists within the company or team. 

Too often, this mindset is of scarcity and lack. Stalling, derailing and creating such animosity that left unchecked, its ripple effects have devastating consequences. Not just to the business, but to the people within it. 

Scarcity Mindset: The Basics

The scarcity mindset, as the term suggests, revolves around the perception of scarcity, or the idea that there’s never enough to go around. This belief system is rooted in fear and anxiety, often leading to a competitive and self-defeating work environment. It is characterised by a continual emphasis on limitations rather than possibilities and a focus on what’s missing, rather than what’s available.

The perpetuating thought – “there’s not enough to go around” – is what commonly comes into our minds when scarcity is present. Leaders and teams can end up focusing too much of their energy on what is lacking. 

It also breeds a lack of collaboration and competitiveness, because “why take risks or share resources if someone else’s win is my loss?”

Recognising Scarcity Mindset in the Workplace

Here’s a list of statements that are associated with the existence of a scarcity mindset within the workplace. Do any of these feel present for you? 

  • People withhold information that could be useful to others (these people don’t want to lose the edge that this information gives them). 
  • There’s a sense of exclusivity rather than inclusivity. For example, only certain people are invited to meetings or a project. 
  • People have difficulty sharing recognition, credit, or power. 
  • Everything feels like a competition. (For budget, power, roles, time etc) 
  • People tend to focus on limitations and why ideas or decisions won’t work. 
  • People may engage in underhand tactics or back-channelling to influence power or decisions. 

As you can see, scarcity mindset can manifest in different ways. It’s also not a black and white situation. There may be teams in the organisation who don’t feel this way, but there may be individuals or leaders that do. This means that the presence of a scarcity mindset is often on a spectrum. 

To give it more context, let’s dive a little deeper into the experiences that scarcity can bring. 

Competition Over Collaboration: People with a scarcity mindset often view their coworkers as rivals rather than allies. They’re inclined to hoard information, resources, or credit for success, as they see these as finite commodities that must be protected. This behaviour stifles teamwork and creativity.

Resistance to Change: People operating from a scarcity perspective typically resist innovation or change, fearing that it might diminish their value or threaten their job security. This resistance can hinder the growth and evolution of a business.

Short-term Focus: A scarcity mindset often leads to a short-term, survival-oriented view, causing people to make decisions based on immediate needs or threats instead of long-term goals and strategies. This can result in poor planning and decision-making.

Fear of Risk-Taking: A scarcity mindset breeds fear of failure. People operating under this belief system may be reluctant to take risks, innovate, or venture into the unknown. This fear can be a significant barrier to personal growth and organisational innovation.

The Impact of a Scarcity Mindset on Business

If it wasn’t obvious already – scarcity mindset is not something that any business should desire to have within its culture. Unfortunately, there are some businesses who still have a belief that breeding individual competitiveness is the best way to increase productivity and performance; and actively create environments that promote competition. The classic phrase “dog eat dog” comes to mind, where people are pitted against each other for the benefit of the company, and supposedly each other. But this outdated approach has been proven to harm business growth and kill team morale. And who wants to work at a place where you can’t trust your colleagues? 

The scarcity mindset has severe repercussions for businesses. It creates a hostile work environment that stifles innovation, creativity, and collaboration, all of which are essential for success in today’s dynamic business landscape. 

Mindsets are a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

If you think for a moment that mindsets aren’t worth bothering with, perhaps this might change your mind.

Mindsets are self-fulfilling because they shape our perception of reality and influence our actions, which in turn reinforces our beliefs and expectations. This cyclical process is known as the self-fulfilling prophecy, a phenomenon wherein our beliefs and expectations cause us to act and react in ways that bring our anticipations to fruition.

Let's take a closer look at how this works:

1. Perception of Reality: Our mindset, or the set of beliefs and attitudes we hold, influences how we perceive and interpret our surroundings. For instance, if we believe that we’re unlikely to succeed in a task (a mindset of scarcity), we will perceive challenges and setbacks as confirmations of this belief.

2. Influence on Actions: Our mindset also shapes our actions and behaviours. If we approach situations with a scarcity mindset, for example, we might be less likely to take risks or seize opportunities, anticipating that we will fail. Alternatively, with a growth mindset, we view challenges as opportunities for learning and improvement, and thus, we’re more likely to embrace difficult tasks.

3. Reinforcement of Beliefs: The actions we take, driven by our mindset, tend to create outcomes that reinforce our initial beliefs. If we avoid risks due to a scarcity mindset, we might find ourselves stuck in a loop of missed opportunities, further confirming our belief that resources are limited and success is out of reach. On the other hand, if we face challenges head-on with a growth mindset, we can learn and grow, reinforcing our belief in our potential to improve.

4. Influence on Others: Additionally, our mindset and corresponding behaviours can influence those around us, further enhancing the self-fulfilling nature of our beliefs. For instance, in a team setting, a leader’s scarcity mindset can trigger competitive, short-sighted behaviours among team members, reinforcing the leader’s belief in scarcity. Conversely, a leader’s growth mindset can foster a culture of learning and innovation within the team, validating the leader’s belief in growth and potential.

Our mindsets can shape our reality by influencing our perceptions, actions, and the behaviours of those around us, thereby making them self-fulfilling. There are near thousands of studies on real-life cases where mindset has changed both emotional and physical responses. None are more popular than the Ted Talk by Dr. Alia Crum – What we believe in the mind, becomes our reality. 

How To Remove Scarcity Mindset

Like anything with a culture change, there’s no quick fix. And as explained at the start, the degree of scarcity can vary greatly from one team to another, let alone between different organisations.  

Below I’ve shared some tools and practices for you to consider. But as with any idea, reflect on where your own team or organisation currently sits on the spectrum before fully rolling out major changes. 

You may also be aware that a scarcity mindset may not be present in the business collectively, but it may be present in particular individuals. The tools I’ve shared below will help in alleviating this, however, it may also require a more direct approach – as some people are just not aware of their own mindsets and ways of being. 

It Begins with Awareness

To shift a mindset of any kind, it first has to begin with awareness. We can’t change something we are not aware of. Therefore, a first point on your journey is to build awareness within your teams or business, of what mindsets exist. You may even go back a little further and educate your team about the basics of mindset and its influence on our lives. 

Information Belongs to Everybody

As information is most commonly used as a currency for power over others, and competition, a first step can be to make company wide information more accessible and available to everyone. 

It might feel counterintuitive at first, especially if people have been so conditioned to hide information previously. But ultimately, opening up information gives everyone the same picture of what’s going on in the organisation. 

Committing to the idea of information transparency, isn’t a radical step. It’s a progressive one that gives teams knowledge to work with, increases efficiency and removes unnecessary bureaucracy.

Break Down Organisational Silos

Teams that work in silos create a ‘them vs. us’ culture. Rather than focussing energy on serving customers, the focus goes inwards and teams end-up caught up in internal politics and secretive behaviours. 

Metaphorically, we need to bring the walls down and open up collaboration between departments and teams. 

It benefits everyone when we can engage in conversations together and connect directly with each other. Not just with our own team or leaders. When we get the opportunity to go outside of our existing circle, we not only harvest new ideas, but the pollination of fresh ideas occurs. The whole company benefits. 

Start breaking down the silos by creating a more open plan space where people can naturally communicate and talk with each other. This very much includes getting rid of those ‘special’ corner offices that separate the top leaders from everyone else. 

This practice also includes a psychological element. People need to talk to everyone equally. Any team member should feel comfortable to approach any other person in the organisation. 

Spotlight on What IS Available

It’s so easy to get caught up in negative talk. We all know this personally when the negativity gremlins take hold. But in a group setting negative talk can spiral out of control and becomes a state that the team then begins to exist within. It’s a toxic climate that erodes productivity. Instead, shift the focus on what IS available to the team, and what next steps you can take together. Opening dialogue with a framework to work through the tough stuff isn’t always comfortable, but it creates the momentum and reframing we often so need in teams. 

Mindset over matter

Writing about mindsets is certainly easier than tackling them. I know that from experience. But if we’re to shift our ways of working, we must first shift our ways of thinking. 

It’s important for businesses to recognise and address the scarcity mindset in the workplace. After all, in the age of exponential technological growth and global interconnectivity, there’s more than enough opportunity to go around for everyone. The key is to shift our focus from what we lack to what we have, and from competition to collaboration.

If you need more help in shifting your collective mindsets at work, get in touch and let’s explore your next evolution. 

Liberty Mind
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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.