Economic uncertainty and workplace issues continue to weigh on workers and managers on a global scale, causing tremendous anxiety. The World Health Organization reports that depression and anxiety cost the global economy one trillion dollars each year, mostly from reduced productivity. But career trajectories are full of unknowns, and we can’t always know future outcomes. Will I get hired for the position? Will I get a good enough raise? Will my colleagues like my presentation? Can I find a job I really like? Will the MRI results end my career?
The Drivers of Career Uncertainty
Our working brain is hard-wired with the hefty responsibility of keeping us safe and secure. Inevitable career uncertainties instantly arouse fight-or-flight reactions, and we automatically interpret uncertainty as a threat. The boss stares over her glasses at you in a meeting, and you conclude you’re in hot water. A coworker uses a certain tone in a text, and you assume he’s mad. The recruiter doesn’t respond to your email, and you’re convinced you didn’t get the position. Your company lays off a ton of employees, and your neck is on the chopping block.
Currently, workplace uncertainty is at an all-time high as employees and employers face tight budgets, inflation woes and heated debates over remote versus in-office work, just to name a few. Adobe surveyed more than 6,000 enterprise and small business managers and workers across eight global markets. Some of their findings include:
- Economic instability and inflation are the biggest drivers of uncertainty, as felt by seven in 10 managers and employees.
- Economic instability/inflation (79%), gun violence (65%), and politics and elections (62%) are the top concerns in the U.S.
- 80% of employees have found at least one global issue of concern negatively impacts their productivity and overall job satisfaction, and that rises to 93% for Gen Z and 87% for Millennials.
- Three in four employees report a breaking news event typically impacts their workday for at least a few hours, and 44% of employees feel more anxious and more discouraged during work than ever before.
- 58% of employees and managers say work is a welcome distraction in times of uncertainty.
- 70% report that they rely on digital tools for peace-of-mind at work to stay productive when having trouble focusing and to ease the stress of completing work when a coworker needs to take time off to process unexpected events.
- Seven in 10 employees and managers say digital tools help support managers in facilitating well-being check-ins with employees.
Seven Tips To Cope With Career Uncertainty
Research shows that when employees are uncertain about being laid off, their job satisfaction and productivity decline. To maintain career security, your best defense is to ask yourself, “Does career uncertainty have you? Or do you have it?” Here are seven strategies that can help you manage the anxiety:
- Focus on what you can control. Despite your best efforts, things won’t always go as planned. The first step is to remember that expectations will go awry and unknown events and disappointments will blindside you. When uncertainty is unacceptable, you amplify your fear and end up at war with yourself, resisting and arguing with your career rather than living it. Consider accepting what you can’t control and focusing on what you can control. Focus on things around you that you can manage or create to empower yourself so you don’t feel like a victim, waiting for the ax to fall.
- Exercise self-care. Take microbreaks and practice workflow meditations throughout the workday to remain calm. Keep yourself fit by getting the sleep, exercise and balanced diet your body needs. Avoid junk food, excessive alcohol and nicotine. When you’re in an unsure waiting period, immerse yourself into little things you look forward to that bring you joy: gardening, reading a good novel, getting a massage, meditating, soaking in a hot bath or having friends over.
- Look for the opportunity in the difficulty. Yale neuroscientists found that uncertainty can be healthy for your brain because you learn more in situations that are unsure. In a predictable setting, your brain doesn’t need to do as much. It becomes a couch potato of sorts. But when situations change, it works harder. Entering an unfamiliar situation enhances the tendency for your brain to absorb additional information. These findings echo the importance of sticking your neck outside your comfort zone in order to cultivate a growth mindset and build resilience for career success.
- Keep a curious mind. Curiosity and anxiety can’t co-exist. When you make your mind up out of fear before each new experience, you become unteachable and can no longer receive insights. Opening your mind with curiosity empties a made-up mind of expectations, allowing you to receive teachable moments in new career situations. Learning to be okay with “maybe,” also can help you become more comfortable with uncertainty and open you to possibility.
- Cultivate optimism. It’s common knowledge that optimists climb the career ladder faster and farther than pessimists. When you highlight the negative aspects of your career, it can dash hope and excitement and shrink the enthusiasm and motivation that keeps you engaged and productive. If you keep your focus on the upside of a career downside, you’re more likely to overcome obstacles and scoot up the career ladder faster and farther than your pessimistic cohorts.
- Turn unknowns into adventures instead of problems. On autopilot, our brain lures us into looking at unknowns as a threat or problem that needs solving. But we have a choice to view unknowns as either problems that create stress or adventures that create excitement. When you flip that perspective, it welcomes possibilities and solutions instead of eclipsing them with problems. Studies show that this perspective shift makes you feel empowered and less anxious instead of victimized by uncertainty.
- Take chances.The same assumptions that keep us safe also prevent us from growing and reaching our career destinations. Avoiding career uncertainty may fool you into thinking you’re safe and sound, but the cocoon you construct becomes a virtual prison. Experts insist that the cost of inaction is far more painful and offers no lessons to grow or reach your career dreams. So build your risk-taking muscles early and often by making small new choices each day. Find one place in your career where you’ve been hiding and ask what edge you can go to in your job.
Employers can help with workplace uncertainty by creating a predictable culture. When employees can count on a certain amount of psychological safety, it reduces stress, turnover and safety incidents and increases productivity. Psychological safety is highest when employers have consistent contact and frequent check-ins with their employees. It heightens engagement, increases motivation and boosts performance. It’s important for business leaders to provide clearly defined roles and job objectives, along with leaders with predictable personalities who can create a stable work culture.