Managing Uncertainty in Times of Change

Home / / ( Published on 2014-08-14 )

As we are all aware, UCSF is enduring budget cuts, which will have a significant impact on our Campus and Medical Center faculty and staff. Many departments within the University are faced with changes that will significantly influence how we work together in the future to preserve our place as a leading institution advancing health worldwide. However, successfully managing the uncertainty that accompanies any transformation increases resilience, self-confidence, motivation and productivity.

Transition walks along side of change. The transition process contains a period where uncertainty reigns, as we simultaneously evolve to a new state of solidity, growth, and renewal. While the outcome of this process ultimately moves us forward, adjusting positively can also be challenging for many individuals psychologically, emotionally, and behaviorally. Periods of uncertainty are known to increase levels of stress in some individuals and workgroups going through this experience.

As human beings, we often become attached to our roles, responsibilities, work group, and historical / current structures within the organization. Reorganization requires thoughtful, hard, and timely decisions. We understand that some employees may fear potential job loss and changes in work responsibilities that can leave one feeling little control over possible outcomes resulting from change. Such circumstances can trigger transient feelings including frustration, a sense of powerlessness, and anxiety. Expect throughout this transition, a time of letting go of the old ways as you begin to appreciate, embrace, and integrate the new. 

Change is an inevitable part of life; impermanence is a given. In order to manage change effectively means not fearing or resisting change and challenges, but instead empowering oneself with the necessary skills to navigate through uncertainty. Preparing oneself for inevitable change and understanding the normal range of responses to stress can help you to feel more confident and can lead to sustained/increased organizational performance. Below is a list of normal reactions to change, and some strategies that lead to resilience.

Normal Reactions to Significant Change

  • Shock, numbness, and withdrawal
  • Fear and insecurity
  • Frustration, resentment, and anger
  • Sadness, depression, and guilt
  • Unfairness, betrayal, and distrust
  • Relief, optimism, and excitement
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Unusually quiet
  • Preoccupied, unable to focus
  • Sarcasm, cynicism

Strategies for Resilience

  • Simply acknowledge your current situation and be aware that normal reactions to the transitional period are to be expected.
  • Take charge and plan in advance how you will respond to the changed workplace environment.  Prioritize steps that will aid in minimizing your anxiety and stress levels.  
  • When change occurs, both positive and negative feelings will often emerge often at the same time.  It’s important to talk and confide in a few people you trust about current changes and pressures associated with the transition.  Don’t isolate yourself with your concerns.  Seeking out individuals who have a sense of hope and who can help you strategize about managing your current situation is helpful.
  • Seek out lines of communication. Clear communication and information in times of uncertainty can aid in minimizing stress and anxiety levels. Acknowledging ambiguity and what you don’t know is equally important.
  • Develop adaptable coping skills. Examples include excersise (even if it’s for thirty minutes a day). Maintain a schedule such as waking up the same time every morning, or going to bed at a predictable time. Calm the mind through the practice of yoga, or meditation. Bringing awareness to your present moment can have calming effects.
  • Think back to challenging times in your life and draw upon how you were able to cope, managed to get through the transition period successfully, and then thrive. 
  • Develop positive emotions that include gratitude, happiness, and compassion towards self and others. Positive emotions increase optimism and resilience. 
  • Laughter and humor are important tools in times of stress. Laughter can break up seriousness in a conversation and trigger the release of endorphins such as serotonin in your body which helps relieve tension and reduce stress.
  • Be proactive. Each individual has the capacity to cope and deal with situations effectively.

If you find yourself having a difficult time managing stress (work related or personal) that may be affecting your wellbeing, please contact the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 415/476-8279 or visit the FSAP websiteWe provide confidential assessment, counseling, referral, and consultation services that support the wellbeing of both the individual and the organization.