Uncertainty in the Workplace: Learning How to Navigate

A road with fog and trees up ahead

Uncertainty can come in many shapes and sizes, particularly when it involves the workplace. Some occupations, such as those in healthcare, have high levels of uncertainty built into them. Others, while more predictable on a day-to-day basis, can fall into uncertainty from external circumstances.

All workers experienced this, at varying degrees, with the COVID-19 pandemic that showed that life can get completely turned around, often without any warning.

That’s why it’s important for us to learn how to navigate during periods of uncertainty in the workplace. It can help us with our job performance, as well as our overall well-being.

If we can learn to accept uncertainty and find healthy ways of navigating it, we can build a more resilient and healthier workplace in the long run.

Uncertainty at Work

We experience uncertainty while at work in many ways. You may be asked to do something that you aren’t sure you will be successful at. You may be worried about your job security.

Some people prefer to ignore these uncertainties, choosing instead to focus on the tasks at hand. Others try to plan for every possible outcome. While neither of these approaches will be particularly helpful at their extremes, there are attitudes in between the two that you may find useful.

Managing Uncertainty in the Workplace

There is no one right way to handle uncertainty that will work for every person. However, while recognizing unpredictability, there are a few approaches that you can try in order to ease anxiety:

Recognize What You Know and Don’t Know

Maybe you know that Friday is your deadline for finishing a big project. Yet, you may not know what your boss’s reaction to the project will be.

You know that if someone asks you to organize a spreadsheet, you can handle that task with ease. If someone asks you to build an animation from scratch, though, that might be a bit trickier.

It’s great to take inventory of some of the things you know and don’t know. You may even find that it’s useful to journal about these things.

Try not to pass judgment on the things you don’t know, but rather, take some time to pause and reflect on if it’s something you should know. From there, you can take steps toward learning more about it.

Accept What’s Out of Your Control

When taking inventory of what you know and what you don’t know, you may also recognize that there are things you don’t know that are out of your control.

It’s helpful to understand that this is an issue you can’t solve, but you also have to accept that you can’t solve it. Worrying about it without any helpful outcomes will only stress you out more and could hurt your overall health and well-being.

Ask For Help When Appropriate

Sometimes, you may not have the answers or capabilities, but another person does. It’s okay to ask for help when you don’t know how to do something or aren’t sure how to get started.

Asking someone for assistance may feel uncomfortable, but it can help you shoulder the burden and avoid burnout, plus increase the level of success for your team.

It’s better to ask someone who knows the answer rather than trying to figure it out all alone.

Along these same lines, help can include reaching out to talk to someone when you feel your mental health declining. If the stress and uncertainty of work is becoming too much for you, you may consider speaking to a trusted friend or colleague, a coach, or a therapist.

Think Positively

When we think about uncertainties and all of the things that could go wrong, we believe that we’re preparing ourselves for the worst-case scenario.

It’s great to be prepared, but recognize that the time you spend worrying about something out of your control could be used for something more productive. In essence, that is time you will never get back.

It ultimately won’t prevent the worst-case scenario from happening. So, why not focus your attention on more positive things instead? For all you know, the best-case scenario could occur instead.

Building Resilience in the Workplace

Uncertainty is a part of life and, often, a part of work. That’s why the idea of being resilient is important for your longevity in a particular work situation.

Here are a few ideas for building your resilience in the workplace:

  • Learn from your mistakes, but don’t let them control you.
  • Create relationships with other teammates and people in the office. It’s much easier dealing with uncertainties if you have some trusted people by your side.
  • Take time for yourself to assess your emotional state and how you can support your own well-being.
  • Don’t avoid challenges. It’s easy to shy away from discomfort, but trying new things and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can help you grow.

To Conclude

If you find yourself becoming anxious and stressed at the idea of workplace uncertainties, you aren’t alone. It’s normal to jump to the worst-case scenario when you aren’t sure of an outcome, and it takes practice to train yourself to think positively instead.

Are you struggling with uncertainties at work? Is your office failing to create a connected culture in the digital world that we’re living in? I work with individuals, teams, and organizations to address workplace anxiety and build a stronger internal culture. If you’re interested in having a conversation, reach out to schedule a meeting.