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6 min read

Embrace the unpredictable: Dealing with uncertainty

Life is unpredictable. These strategies will help you and your team deal with uncertainty in the workplace and learn to thrive on change.
From Team '23

Tempo Team

Sometimes, uncertainty is fun – a tied game at the bottom of the ninth or a night spent reading the latest page-turner from a mystery author. The anticipation is invigorating. But not all uncertainty is enjoyable.

A work environment clouded with ambiguity has the opposite effect. Whether it stems from poorly defined project requirements or job insecurity, uncertain conditions lead to stress, anxiety, and other negative mental health impacts among employees. It’s no surprise people have an intolerance for unpredictability when it relates to their livelihood.

Although you can’t always predict the future, you can take steps to reduce workplace volatility and develop the necessary coping strategies to maintain a healthy frame of mind. Learning to deal with uncertainty and manage change builds resilience that will serve you well at work and in other facets of your life.

Why is it important to combat workplace uncertainty?

Evolution has wired the human brain to avoid uncertain scenarios. It’s why ambiguous circumstances can make people anxious and even lead to clinical anxiety.

In a work environment, this can significantly impact business outcomes, not to mention staff morale and well-being. Studies show that a lack of certainty caused by poorly defined roles, workplace conflict, or poor leadership contributes to higher burnout rates than job responsibilities, timelines, or task complexity. 

Even if your team members don’t develop burnout, stressful conditions caused by uncertainty can increase employee dissatisfaction, diminish retention rates, and send productivity plummeting. It can even impact workers’ ability to make a decision.

With such dire impacts, leaders must engage with employees to reduce their fear and anxiety, even in situations when outcomes are hard to predict. 

How to guide your team through uncertainty

Here are a few strategies you can implement to help your team thrive in uncertain times: 

1. Set clear expectations

Clarifying your team’s roles is the best way to reduce uncertainty in the workplace. Begin by defining your expectations, including required benchmarks and outcomes, while encouraging employees to reach out when they need help or guidance. 

Clear expectations take the guesswork out of work. Employees feel more at ease when they know they’re following guidelines and reaching their targets. Additionally, the knowledge can motivate them to improve their performance and get back on track if they’re short of expected goals.

2. Help employees develop new skills

There are no guarantees in life or work. We should always be prepared for the worst-case scenario. As the team leader, you can encourage your employees to embrace professional development opportunities to help them overcome new and unforeseen obstacles.

Your team needs dynamic skills and an adaptive mindset to keep up. Develop a training program that teaches staff to move swiftly but carefully, collaborate with others, and think on their feet.

As the manager, you’re responsible for modeling a positive response to uncertainty. Change is inevitable, so be open-minded and embrace it as a growth opportunity.

3. Schedule one-on-one meetings

Open communication is crucial to creating and nurturing working relationships and a positive work environment.

Schedule regular meetings with employees – at least once a month. In-person sessions are best, but phone or video conferencing is acceptable. Go beyond the usual status updates; encourage them to discuss their feelings and how you can help them achieve greater job satisfaction. During these conversations, seek insight into their professional struggles and brainstorm ways to help. 

A consistent meeting schedule helps you learn about your employees’ goals and challenges and find ways to support their development. Show your concern to ensure staff feels valued and comforted. 

4. Maintain transparency

When work is uncertain, honesty and transparency are essential. Share any new information as soon as you have it. Include as much context as possible, focusing on the big picture. Open communication helps workers understand why leaders make specific choices and how they impact the organization. 

If you’re leading a remote team, choose your communication channel carefully. An email is appropriate for sharing company-wide intelligence, whereas a Zoom call is a better way to communicate impactful news to an individual.

5. Provide opportunities for autonomy

Employees feel powerless when facing unpredictable situations. A lack of control contributes to the adverse effects of uncertainty, eventually leading to depression and anxiety. Granting your employees some autonomy is vital. Whether they set their own schedule, establish personal performance targets, or take charge of a special project, employees with authority over their work will enjoy boosted confidence and productivity.   

Let your team try something new. If the initiative succeeds, everyone benefits. If it fails, they have a valuable opportunity to learn and grow. Win or lose, you’ve granted them what they need the most: control. 

6. Build trust

All successful relationships require trust. If leadership isn’t trustworthy in trying circumstances, they won’t provide the reassurance and security workers need to perform their best. 

You must go beyond honesty and transparency to gain your staff’s trust. Remain consistent and reliable in your words, actions, and promises.

5 tips for coping with uncertainty as a leader

The unknown is often frightening, but some tolerate uncertainty better than others. Maybe nature has wired their brains differently, but they’ve more likely developed strategies to help them cope. 

Here are a few techniques to try next time you feel anxious about the unpredictable:

1. Don’t focus on things you can’t control

When facing ambiguity, we tend to fixate on the worst-case scenario. Acknowledge that things could go wrong, but don’t dwell on the possibility. Instead, find healthy activities that put control back in your hands, like meal planning or decluttering. Many find comfort in their daily routine.

2. Develop new skills

Step out of your comfort zone to learn something new, building confidence and a growth mindset. You’ll be more comfortable with unpredictability when you’ve proven you can successfully acquire new skills and adapt to the unfamiliar.

3. Be present

Stressing about the future is unproductive. Instead, focus on the present moment and address what you can do now. Mindfulness gives you greater awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and environment so you can respond conscientiously – not reactively – to stress or ambiguity.

Attend to your short-term needs and those of your team. If a goal is too big, break it down into manageable chunks. With each small success, your confidence will grow, helping you move forward.

4. Take care of yourself

Self-care is essential to maintaining the healthy mindset needed to cope with uncertainty. Caring for yourself doesn’t require yoga retreats and expensive smoothies. It means eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Healthy routines help you release stress and take comfort in those who love and support you. 

5. Seek help when you need it

We all experience anxiety from time to time. But if you can’t stop worrying, you may benefit from a visit to a qualified medical professional or licensed therapist who can provide strategies to cope with negative emotions and stress.

Final thoughts

Digital tools can help project managers combat workplace uncertainty and unpredictability. Tempo’s Strategic Roadmaps application lets you plot out every project phase. By visualizing your project plan with a boardroom-ready roadmap, you can identify potential risks and roadblocks and make plans to overcome them. Capacity Planner helps you allocate resources and track their use in real time, so you never have to worry about shortages again. 

With Tempo at your side, success isn’t only predictable – it’s inevitable.