What is FOMO?

It can motivate employees just as it has fueled the stock market rise, customer buying

Everyone is affected to some degree by FOMO, which is the Wall Street acronym du jour for fear of missing out. According to a mid-March story in the prestigious financial publication Barron’s, when investment logic seemed about to stall the stock market’s upward trajectory, a sudden reversal kicked in.

The underlying catalyst for this ascent was (and still is) the investors’ overriding fear that they might be left at the station as the train pulled away, possibly on a destination to new highs.

Forget concerns that the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates; no need to ponder trade tariffs and a mixed bag of business and political news. All that seemed to matter was that inertia, as we learned in physics, can kick in and with a bit of a nudge, put an object into motion. This applies to much more than the markets.

Over the years, ridiculous products with no value, such as the pet rock have captivated consumers and catapulted sales. This is a classic example, as it was nothing more than a stupid rock placed in a colorful box and promoted as being a pet that was 100 percent obedient. People bought them by the millions. Why? It was another example of FOMO; consumers simply didn’t want to be left out of possessing the latest and greatest because, just maybe, there was some unknown benefit of proudly displaying an inanimate object on one’s desk — gathering dust.

There is a way for companies to use FOMO to positively stir the pot with their teams and create excitement using this herd mentality.

Here is one way: Announce a new “volunteer” initiative where employees can sign up to work on a special project. The reward for doing so is not as relevant as the sense that if they don’t join, they could be missing recognition and possibly long-term rewards in the future. By making it an option, your people may wonder what’s the catch, but likely will still participate because of FOMO. Management also can derive the added advantage of determining if those who did not sign up are just along for the ride and have emotionally quit, but are staying just to pick up a paycheck.

Those participating should be assigned real issues and opportunities on which to focus and come up with solutions. Don’t be surprised if one of these efforts hits pay dirt and produces value that can serve as a catalyst for improved operations or a new product.

Employee FOMO works if thought is put into crafting a plan for participants. It can even add a spark of fun to the pressure and occasional tedium of day-to-day business. However, you must put parameters on the amount of time employees put into the effort to ensure the regular work gets done.

Just as the stock market has its FOMO joiners, employees will likely jump aboard, too, because they’re afraid of being an outlier and their colleagues getting something they’re not.

Editor’s Note: This column was written approximately 12 weeks prior to publication, stock market conditions, as referenced, are subject to significant change during this period.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide. Today, as founder/CEO of Max-Ventures, his firm invests in and consults for retail businesses.