Dealing with uncertainty is something most of us dislike. But we all have different tolerance for uncertainty. No matter how much we try to plan, there will always be some levels of uncertainty in life, but what about workplace uncertainty? How do you deal with and manage workplace uncertainty before it drives you crazy with worry and anxiety?
There are a few forms of workplace uncertainty that we can generally categorize into four main groups; skill, people, career, and company uncertainties. I’ll break down each category and give tips on managing those uncertainties better.
Skill uncertainty is sort of like imposter syndrome. It’s that gut feeling that you aren’t good enough or qualified to do your job. The difference between skill and uncertainty and imposter syndrome is that skill uncertainty happens because we feel like we lack the tools to do our job effectively and efficiently. We covered Imposter Syndrome in a different article if you want to read it. It’s easy to feel uncertain when you lack the knowledge, tools, stamina, or precision to do your job. The best thing to do with skill uncertainty is to use risk management.
Risk management is broken up into four different sections. It’s like the workplace scientific method: Identify the risk, success percentage, overall control, and risk exposure.
If you can identify the risk on whatever task you are working on, whether it’s your lack of knowledge or precision, you can assess the likelihood of completing the task as you are now. Knowing what the problem is is half the battle, and once you know what it is, you can start to control the situation. Ask for help from a colleague if you need guidance. If you can gain some confidence and control over the situation, you can limit the risk exposure.
Maybe it’s been the last two years, but I have completely forgotten how to interact with people socially. Of course, it doesn’t help that I am naturally an introvert and get tired of human interaction. And that social anxiety can translate into the workplace even if we don’t initially recognize it. You might be close with a few coworkers, but you might need help from some people you barely know or don’t know at all, and you don’t know how they will react if you ask for help.
Being prepared has never hurt. Of course, you can try to be as prepared as possible, but there is only so much you can do. But when it comes to working with people, getting to know what kind of person they are will help tremendously. I’ll use my mom as an example. My mom is extremely left-brained, and I am not, so whenever I tried to state my arguments for or against something as a kid, I would need to appeal to her logic-oriented brain instead of using emotion to get my point across to her. So is the person you are trying to work with theoretical or practical? Are they serious or funny? Understanding how someone functions at a very basic level can help blossom communication and avoid any friction that might occur.
Career uncertainty is probably the most relatable of all the uncertainties listed in this article. Or, at the very least, it is for me in the point of my life I’m in now. Is what you are doing right now the thing you want to make a career out of right now? Only 27% of college graduates end up working in their field. And then we also hear stories of people in their forties and fifties switching career fields out of the blue.
Career uncertainty is a nagging feeling that can weigh you down, but it is rather simple to overcome it. There are a lot of jobs out there in the world, so don’t be afraid to explore other options. Only 27% of college graduates work in the field they studied, which means that 73% of them work in another field. Just because you studied, one thing doesn’t mean you can’t go out into the world and learn a new skill. Find something you can see yourself doing and pursue it. Telling someone to follow their dreams sounds incredibly cheesy, but it’s the difference between hating your job and loving what you do. Fulfillment is the biggest key to career longevity. Be brave and explore your options.
Every company runs differently. Company culture and politics also differ from company to company, so there can be a lot of uncertainty when you don’t know or understand the inner machinations of the company. For example, does the company value seniority over others, or do they like to disrupt the status quo through inventiveness?.
And while you might not change the company culture or politics, there are a few things you can do to overcome and manage company uncertainty. Observe your surroundings. Learn how things run and how they operate. Learn to navigate the inner workings of your company. Who do people listen to, or who are people scared of in meetings? Navigating office politics is never fun, but sometimes it’s necessary. And lastly, always be ready to adapt to change. Maybe you get a new boss, a new coworker, or a new program the company wants to implement. Whatever the case, learn to adapt to changes thrown your way.
There is always a level of uncertainty in all aspects of life. Of course, there are healthy and unhealthy levels of uncertainty, but learning to overcome and manage that uncertainty, especially in the workplace, will determine if you drown in anxiety or make an easy time of whatever comes at you. And while uncertainty can come in many shapes and sizes, managing it is all the same once you figure it out.