Navigating Uncertainty in the Workplace

July 17, 2023

Matt Gainsford

Matt Gainsford

For businesses to thrive, they must evolve and change… especially during difficult economic times. The uncertainty that comes with evolution and change, however, can lead to anxiety, stress, and insecurity among employees. It’s important that employers are cognizant of the impact uncertainty can have on team members so they can take proactive measures to provide support. 

Two business people having a conflict over a document

In this blog, we will explore the challenges posed by uncertainty and delve into effective strategies people managers can employ to help their people navigate through difficult times. 

The Impact of Uncertainty:

Employee Disengagement:

Gallup’s study indicates that 40% of employees are actively disengaged at work due to uncertainty, resulting in reduced commitment and subpar performance. This is where you get “quiet quitters” (the last time we will use this phrase in the blog, we promise).

Job Security Concerns:

According to SHRM, 70% of employees experience worry regarding job security, attributed to factors like economic downturns, automation, and heightened job market competition. You can also add unexpected layoffs or the resignations of long-tenured team members.

Decreased Confidence in the Job Market:

LinkedIn’s 2023 Workforce Confidence Index reveals a decline in employees’ confidence to secure new jobs, signaling heightened uncertainty and insecurity.

Manifestations of Workplace Uncertainty:

Fear of Job Loss:

Employees may experience anxiety over financial stability, dreading the prospect of losing their job and struggling to meet their financial obligations. If you’ve ever been in a place where you’re afraid to check your bank balance, you’ll know this feeling. The problem doesn’t go away just because you’re not looking at it, but facing it makes you more anxious; the money isn’t the problem, the uncertainty is!

Fear of Change:

Workplace changes, such as management restructuring or new leadership, can generate apprehension, concern, or fear among employees. Those feelings can bring us into our natural response of “fight or flight” and if we are in survival mode, we start to lose the ability to think rationally and creatively. 

Think of it this way, if you were stuck in the desert and you were looking for water, you’re not going to be concerned about what type of cup you drink from. The minute you see water you’re diving in headfirst… From a workplace perspective that means reverting to the tasks that help us meet an immediate need as opposed to engaging in creative career pathing and learning new skills. This leads into… 

Hesitation in Sharing Career Aspirations:

Employees may be reluctant to express their career goals to their managers due to the fear of being perceived as a threat or overlooked for promotions. 

Creating a Culture of Care:

Managers have been given an important role in an organization, which is to lead and care for their people. All people leaders can use the support tools below designed to build a culture of care. 

Transparent Communication:

People leaders should maintain open lines of communication, sharing company plans and goals to keep employees informed about changes and their potential impact. As a company who runs on EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System™), our teams host weekly L10™ meetings that enable our leaders to share information effectively and to ensure our people are on the same page and rowing in the same direction.

Development Programs:

Find ways to provide training on new skills and technologies designed to equip employees with the necessary tools to adapt and remain confident in their abilities, fostering resilience in the face of uncertainty. Encourage team members to find workshops or books that can foster their learning, as well. 

Cultivating a Supportive Environment:

Creating a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable expressing concerns and seeking assistance fosters a sense of belonging and reduces feelings of isolation. A key to this could be weekly, scheduled one-on-ones that provide a forum for open, honest, and courageous candor (conversations that matter without fear of adverse reprisal).

Offering Counseling Services:

People leaders can work with HR to ensure employees understand how to access services through an EAP. Employee Assistance Programs offer an array of services from financial planning, counseling, childcare, eldercare services and beyond. 

The Impact of Employee Support:

If we create a culture of care, it can have a significant impact on employee well-being. 

Enhanced Engagement:

Gallup’s research demonstrates that employees who perceive their employer’s concern for their well-being are more engaged in their work, leading to improved productivity and performance.

Increased Company Profitability:

SHRM’s study reveals that companies with high employee engagement are 21% more profitable than those with low engagement levels, emphasizing the importance of supporting employees during uncertain times.

Long-Term Retention:

LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index highlights that employees who feel supported by their employer are more likely to remain with the company for an extended period, reducing turnover and fostering stability.

In Life, Only Three Things Are Certain: Death, Taxes, and Uncertainty

Uncertainty in the workplace can significantly impact employees’ well-being, job satisfaction, and overall performance. However, by adopting proactive measures, people leaders can help alleviate employees’ concerns and foster a sense of security and confidence. Transparent communication, training opportunities, a supportive environment, and EAP services can make a substantial difference in navigating uncertainty successfully. Ultimately, by prioritizing employee support, managers can cultivate a more engaged, productive, and connected workforce, leading to improved company performance in the face of uncertainty.  

When your people feel cared for, they can navigate anything! 


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