How to Survive Challenging Times at Work and Come Out Ahead

Any situation can seem bigger and more threatening when the stakes are high and certainty is especially low. Maybe you’re getting a new boss, your division is going through lay-offs, or your company is being purchased. Whatever the cause may be, stepping through a period of uncertainty and high stress requires equal parts focus and flexibility, optimism and realism.

Shift your Focus to What is True in Physical Reality

During these major change events, the discomfort and fear that people experience drives a lot of speculation. You hear all kinds of rumors about different plans being made at the senior level. Yes, these rumors can turn out to be true, but just as often plans change and that rumored event doesn’t happen even if it had been a real plan. Recognize that the state of uncertainty is so uncomfortable for humans in general, that we would rather grab hold of a negative scenario than to remain in a state of not knowing what will happen next. At times like these, focus on actions that you can see, rather than people’s opinions of the dire things to come.

Don’t Compare Yourself Out

I see people do this all the time and no doubt other people have seen me do this as well. During a time of increased stress and possible competition for promotions or even just continued employment, we often wish to escape. Wishing to escape makes perfect sense – after all, who wants to be in this kind of discomfort! – however the ways we act out this wish can be subtle and we might not notice we’re acting out of discomfort. One of these ways is to form a conclusion that others are in better positions than we are to come out of this change ahead.  We start acting and talking like we’re definitely going to get the short end of the stick in this situation, even when there is little or no evidence supporting our conclusion.

And I’ve seen many people “preemptively” quit – they have a new boss, a new team structure, people are being laid off around them and the discomfort is so great, they just quit on the spot. Now maybe quitting is exactly the right thing to do! Everyone has their own circumstances and only they can determine what is the next right step for themselves. However so often when the dust settles at that place they just quit, there would still have been a place for them and if not, they would have been laid off with severance pay. You are not entirely in control of your employment status, but you can always play the final card of opting out – so weigh your options and play the card wisely. I often think of something an Executive VP at Disney told me early in my career: She said when things are changing, you don’t have do anything. Often if you don’t make a move, things will just change around you.

There is Opportunity in Change

You have likely heard this before, it’s one of those phrases that sounds good but we’re not sure exactly how this applies to us. Well, a time of uncertainty about the future of your work status is exactly the time to accept this phrase as truth, even if you don’t understand it or are just not feeling it! So if it were true that this is a time of opportunity for you, what actions might you take? What situation would you love to be in when the “dust clears” from this change?  If layoffs have begun in your company and you would love to have unbroken employment, you might start updating your resume and reaching out to people you know at other companies.  If you would love to be doing a different job at your current company, you might start preparing a case for what you can bring to a different position and talking to people in your company about opportunities. It takes courage to make a move in both good times and bad! Recognize that anyone in your situation would have discomfort, and take an action toward that situation you would love to be in.

I have been laid off three times in my 25 year technology and media career, but I have gone through more mergers, acquisitions, layoffs and re-structuring than I could possibly count. At one point, I went through eleven boss changes in less than two years! My bosses and departments were changing so frequently that I created a PowerPoint to describe myself, my area of responsibility, how it benefited the company and how I could help the new boss specifically. People were being laid off constantly and nine of those bosses were fired or quit during the short time I reported to them. I’m not saying that I skated through this period easily (I think I developed a twitch in my left eye!), but I stayed focused on what I wanted: To remain employed until I determined it was time to go. To do this, I stayed laser-focused on how well I was doing my job and what benefits I was bringing to the company and to my current boss, particularly during those changing times. And I kept updating my resume, just in case!

Support Makes the Difference

This is the time to talk to people outside of your company who are supportive of you – friends, family, therapist, coach, clergy. Talking to others who are not involved can help you to keep a higher perspective.

Remember What Kind of Person You Are

During times of stress and uncertainty, people more easily succumb to acting in ways that are counter to their own values. How you feel about yourself will stay with you longer than your current position, whether you are laid off now or retire in thirty years. When you are going to sleep at night and you lay your head on that pillow, it’s just you and how you feel about actions you’ve taken! Make every action count and keep your values in mind. For example if you value being truthful, courageous and generous, ask yourself what would a person with those values do in a situation like this? You will find it easier to make decisions and take actions that are true to you.

The Power of Gratitude

Gratitude is a powerful tool for any life situation, good or bad. And when times are particularly challenging, focusing on the things we are grateful for relieves our anxiety. Start a gratitude journal – every morning or evening, write down three things you are grateful for. Three things that bring you joy, warm your heart or that you’re just glad about… the dinner you had with your friend, the view you have from your home, the roof over your head. Try it for seven consecutive days. Read back over your prior entries and notice the shift in your energy when you see how many things are going right for you. The more good things you see, the more good things there will be to see. I can’t explain it but it works!

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