Adapt and survive

Uncertainty makes us anxious but it can be a great catalyst for change, and there are strategies to address our fears, says Erin Kelly


Adapt and survive

When changes take place all around us, it’s usual to feel unsettled and to cling to what we know.

But we should use the changing times to reframe our core attitudes to work and the workplace, says clinical psychologist Cecilia d'Felice. ‘Our attitudes to work needed a shake-up,’ she says. ‘We’ve been distracted from real issues by the party mentality of the boom times. Now is a great time to think about values. We have neglected environment and community, and this is an opportunity to focus on both of those things in the workplace.

‘Take the time to reframe the way you see work. Think about whether you could nurture and support others, or whether others can offer you some back-up. Everyone is fighting a hard battle, to paraphrase Plato, so be kind. Managers can think about how insecure the juniors are feeling, while employees might try to empathise with the pressure senior staff are under.’

Clinical psychologist Dr Judith Sills says that fear in the workplace can be harnessed positively since it makes some of us more co-operative. There may be more intense competition in some places, but there may also be a tendency to offer, and ask for, back-up. ‘A willingness to share the pain, an alliance with people you might not have got to know otherwise, a warm exchange (“How’s it going with you guys?”) with a colleague you’d only nodded at before — these are the bonds that fear builds.’

However, while our instincts might tell us to seek help, asking colleagues to help you might be counter-productive, cautions Dr Neil Conway, senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London. Ask for advice, by all means, but find your own way.

‘Research suggests that receiving explicit support from others can undermine our self-confidence,’ he says. ‘It can also make a person appear needy, which may be undermining in the wider social setting.’ Half of us are worried about work, says Ben Wilmot, employee relations advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, but for most of us this anxiety is non-specific. ‘Only 30 per cent are worried that they’re next for the chop. The rest are overwhelmed by a global, unfocused panic about work. There is more to work worries than the security of your next pay cheque. Work is an identifier and relationships, self-worth and motivation are all tied up in your career.

‘Focus on what’s really making you anxious. Perhaps it’s your relationship with your manager, dissatisfaction with your role or even your commute that’s really the problem. Identifying what’s wrong is the first step to conquering that vague but pervading sense of unease.’ Wilmot also says that while it’s tempting to avoid dealing with pressures, it’s also dangerous. ‘It’s nice to pretend that none of this is happening, but remaining in denial will isolate you from the reality of the situation — and stop you taking practical steps to protect your career.’

Photograph: Goodshoot