“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” John Allen Paulos
Uncertainty at work comes in many forms. Restructures. Office moves. Changes in policies, practices and priorities. Even if things feel cosily predictable and safe right now, they can change quickly and you need to be ready to handle that change. Change is often not the problem, however: the biggest amount of stress and discomfort can often come from the degree of uncertainty that surrounds the change, particularly when we feel strongly attached to a certain outcome. How do we cope well with it?
Accept that things change
Understand that you can’t control everything and focus on those things that you can have some control over. Taking control of even small things can help the big scary things seem less overwhelming. For example, an office relocation can seem daunting, especially if you focus on the amount of disruption it will bring to your workload and the large number of things to pack, but look at the things you can influence: you can negotiate the moving date, you can have a say over how the new office is arranged, you can ask for help from colleagues in both moving and in staying on top of important tasks.
Use stress reduction techniques
But what about the things we can’t control? Prolonged stress – whether from uncertainty or anything else – can have profound physical and mental consequences, so it is important to stay on top of it by finding stress reduction methods that work for you. Physical exercise, meditation and mindfulness are all great approaches, and finding someone who will listen to you and help provide a realistic viewpoint on your situation can also help unburden you of stress and anxiety.
Make plans rather than expectations
Thinking that only one possible outcome of uncertainty is the “right” one leads to increased anxiety and disappointment. Look at the different outcomes that are possible and try to make plans for each of them, so that you feel more prepared whatever happens. If your job insecurity passes without you losing your position, does it matter that you spent an afternoon updating your CV? No; and it might actually be of benefit should another opportunity arise in the near future, as you are more prepared to move quickly and pursue it.
Improve your coping skills
While it is understandable that we avoid the things that scare us and that we feel we can’t cope with, avoidant behaviour ultimately just fuels the fear. Try taking a step outside your comfort zone and do something that feel a little bit uncomfortable. Let yourself feel that discomfort without running away, then get on with your day; you have just proved to yourself that you can cope with a bit more than you thought you could, which is a valuable lesson when things get uncertain.
This too shall pass
Nothing lasts for ever, even periods of uncertainty. Think of a time when you had uncertainty in your life before and things turned out to be OK in the end; perhaps the end of a job or relationship that led you to a better option, or (in my own case) a move across country that led to a more secure, better paid job and a much more pleasant flat to live in, once I had accepted the need to make such a scary and (in the short term) expensive change to my life.