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How to manage your anxiety if you’re worried about job security

By Alex Fraser, Group Head of Change, Hays

With so much uncertainty about what tomorrow will bring, it is understandable that many people may be feeling anxious about their job security. However, there is also every reason to be hopeful and optimistic. The coronavirus crisis is revealing a world of new opportunity and a new era of work. It will be different, but that doesn’t mean it will be worse.

Of course, feeling anxious at this time is completely natural, but it’s important to learn that the best way to deal with anxiety isn’t to simply try to ignore it or allow it to overwhelm your mind and thoughts. Instead, you need to take control – doing so will help you to feel empowered and less anxious.

Even in stable times, it’s wise to take a proactive approach to your career. And the change that COVID-19 has brought could actually provide you with an invaluable opportunity to review your career, and ensure you’re making the right decisions for your future.

Six ways to manage your anxiety and concerns around job security

So, let’s look at some of the steps you could take to calm your anxieties around your job security.

1. Take control of the situation

  • Acknowledge your anxiety – We all have to accept that right now, we’re going through a period of rapid and unknown change. No one could have predicted to be in the situation we are in, and the changes are likely to keep coming for a while. The first step in dealing with anxiety and negativity about your role within your organisation, is acknowledging the feelings for what they are. By that, I mean acknowledging that your anxiety exists and think about which aspects you can control. This self-awareness will enable you to begin to dissolve your fears. So, try not to be afraid to face your anxieties head-on. Stop playing out the “what ifs” in your mind, and instead accept “what is”, focusing on the “what can I do about it?”
  • Focus on what is within your control – Take the time now to consciously identify what you do have control of in your life, and focus on those things. At times of anxiety, people often lose perspective and feel that they can’t control anything – that someone else is dictating their path, without them having a say on the matter. The truth is that you can always control how you perform, how you act and how you come across, so do what you can to confirm the value you bring to your business. Trust in your abilities and at the same time, get prepared for change. When you let go of self-doubt, your work anxiety will reduce, and your productivity levels will increase.

In the words of Jonathan Alpert, psychotherapist and author of ‘Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days’, “As with many situations, perception is key and that begins in your mind. So next time you find yourself in a situation where you feel you have no control, take some time to change your thinking. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how you go from feeling powerless to powerful.”

  • Ensure you have all of the information possible about your situation – Don’t suffer in silence, or sit waiting to hear more information. Instead, you could discuss your concerns with your manager or another senior stakeholder who can help to answer any of your lingering questions – such as whether your employer’s strategic objectives are changing, what the future of your department looks like, and how you can deliver value in your role moving forward. This could go a long way to clearing up any uncertainties that may be playing on your mind and heightening your concerns.

It is also important to note, however, that unfortunately no manager or senior stakeholder is going to be able to give anyone a concrete guarantee of certainty around their role right now. What you can do, though, is work to develop trust and transparency with your manager, such that you have a view of what’s happening in your organisation and what you can be doing to reinforce your value.

  • Take action – Once you have all the information possible to understand your situation, shift your focus into taking concrete action to assume maximum control over your circumstances.

2. Reframe your perception of the situation and be ready to embrace change as an opportunity

  • Adapt how you process and deal with change – If you’re feeling anxious about the possibility of significant change in your professional situation, a key step in addressing the challenge is to reframe it as an opportunity. Try to approach the situation with a growth mindset, in the knowledge that even if your present circumstance isn’t what you had planned for, you can still learn a lot from it, with these lessons potentially helping to power your long-term professional growth. I know this sounds easier said than done, but there are steps you can take to achieve this mindset. A couple of examples I recently wrote about are allowing yourself a moment to take stock, break down the big picture into smaller chunks, work out what is fact and what is actually your own interpretation of a fact, and then work out what your current circumstances really mean for you.
  • Know that positives will arise – Force yourself to consider the upside and opportunities the situation could bring for you, rather than focussing on what you perceive to be the disadvantages. For example, your job may be changing, but actually, does it allow you to take on responsibilities you enjoy more so? Or does it allow you to develop new technical skills which will in fact boost your employability? Once you have a strong and complete understanding of this, you will be able to start making a manageable plan and setting yourself some personal goals. Don’t forget to take this process one step and one day at a time, being patient with yourself along the way. Recognise how far you have come already, reflecting on your successes and what has gone well.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it – After all, asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, quite the opposite, it shows we care and are committed to doing a good job; we all need some help every now and then. Accepting and adapting to change is not a simple feat, and admitting that you’re struggling or wanting to speak to someone for advice is part of acknowledging and dealing with the situation. Not only this, but it illustrates that you’re committed to continuous learning and self-improvement – a skill that will be highly in-demand by employers in the new era of work.

3. Turn your nervous energy into proactivity

  • Take a proactive approach to managing your career – I know it can be really difficult to push your concerns and anxieties out of your head, but one way to try to do this is to focus on being as proactive as possible. Not only will this put you in a stronger position in the short, medium and long term, but it will also help to invigorate your wellbeing and even prevent workplace stress. Ask yourself right now, then, what steps you can take to protect yourself and get yourself ready for the future. Are there any particular skills gaps that you’ve always wanted to develop, but haven’t had the time to focus on previously? What about how your job role and function might change as a result of the crisis? Are there any areas this would mean you need to upskill in? What next steps do you have in mind for your career, and what skills will you need to develop to reach those goals?

Once you’ve asked yourself these questions and come up with some answers, it’s a good idea to talk to your line manager to get their insights, in addition to other people whose opinion you value. This will help you to validate and challenge your own perceptions and assumptions to ensure you are on the right track and are being objective and realistic.

  • Set yourself some SMART objectives – These are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely development goals that you can work towards, which will help you to stay motivated and on target. Write these down and get yourself in the habit of checking back against them on a regular basis to keep the momentum going.
  • Use any additional time to set yourself up for the future – If you’re finding yourself with more time on your hands due to the crisis, then you could use this time to research training materials, attend webinars, read and listen to podcasts – in short, anything that you can do to prepare yourself effectively for the next era of work. Being productive like this will help to alleviate your anxieties; not just because your mind will be occupied with learning new skills or further developing existing skills, but because it will make you feel calmer in the knowledge that you are using your time wisely to future-proof yourself and your career.

Now would also be a really good time to update your CV and LinkedIn profile and research jobs, especially if you seemed to lack the time for these things pre-crisis. Consider reconnecting with old colleagues or other business contacts, too. Networking is a powerful tool, and at times like this, talking to people can really help you to feel less isolated and anxious.

  • Allow yourself to enjoy hobbies and activities outside of work – It’s important to note that turning your anxieties into proactive action doesn’t always have to be work-related. You should also be taking some time for yourself at the moment, doing things you enjoy that are unconnected to your work and career. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn another language or play an instrument? Alternatively, perhaps you could take on a sporting or fitness challenge, in acknowledgement of how exercise can help to relieve stress and improve wellbeing? Whatever it is that you’re interested in, this is another great way to proactively occupy your mind – and in the process, keep any anxieties at bay.

4. Plan for the future

  • Reflect on your career so far – Rather than focusing your energy on how you’re feeling about your current situation or any concerns, now might be the time to really reflect on your career and goals, and ask yourself whether they are still representative of what you actually want from your life. When assessing areas in which you would like to upskill in and setting yourself some SMART goals (as we discussed in the previous step), you may have even opened your eyes to a new role or career path entirely. That, in turn, might prompt you to explore less obvious opportunities, such as a horizontal career move, which – as Hays UK Director Karen Young has explained – may help you to manage your skill set in anticipation of the job you wish to have in two or more career moves’ time.
  • Revise your career plan – You may have had a five or 10-year plan already in place before the crisis began – whether this was a concrete plan on paper, or thoughts and aims in your head – but you may now need to alter this slightly. This refreshed or renewed plan doesn’t need to be particularly detailed at this point – the important thing is that it captures what you value, need and want from your career, so that you can effectively evaluate the opportunities that arise and explore which areas you may need to upskill in. Revising or creating your long-term career plan will help to reduce any anxiety you feel about what is happening right now; it will remind you that we will get through this, and there will be a future. Focusing on that gives us the hope and positive attitude that everything will work out.
  • Imagine how you will feel when you achieve career success – As you consider what your edited plan needs to look like – including what can be introduced, kept or removed – envisage good things happening to you in your career, and what it would be like for you if you fulfilled your aspirations. You might create a vision board, for example, instead of simply writing down sentences as you assemble your new or revised plan. As wellbeing technology expert Tchiki Davis has written for Greater Good: “In our minds, we can play out future scenarios to predict how we would personally think, feel and respond to them. And by doing so, we experience thoughts and emotions similar to those that would occur if the situations were actually happening to us right now.” Your imagination can therefore be a powerful tool for creating positive emotions while planning your future.

5. Do something productive to put a financial safety net in place

  • Be clear and realistic about your financial needs – Many people’s anxieties about job security revolve around the very real-world practical consequences that would arise if they were to lose their source of income. So, if this is your fear, it’s well worth looking into how you could create a new sense of safety by actively building up your financial safety net. You can start by being clear on what you need each month to pay your bills, and think about all of the ways you can reduce expenses or unnecessary spending. But also be realistic about how, and how much, you can earn and save, seeking advice from independent financial advisors or resources if necessary, like the Money Advice Service in the UK.
  • Work on your financial confidence – I spoke to our Group Head of Reward, Rosemary Lemon, about how to relieve anxieties around financial safety, here’s what she had to say: “As we enter the new era of work, it is more important than ever that you are financially confident. Understanding your money and setting a budget help reduce financial stress. Have a look too at any benefits that employers offer to save on day-to-day expenses, like retail discounts on food shopping, and make sure you have the best deals on utilities or mobile phone contracts. Many of us working at home are currently not paying travel costs or splashing out on that morning coffee, so try to put those cost-savings aside – it is surprising how much they can add up. Turn from being a spender to a saver”.
  • Consider taking on a side project or ‘side hustle’ – This is something that you may start not just to make some extra cash, but also to explore a passion of yours and build new skills. That, in turn, may help to boost your future earning power. In the words of our CEO Alistair Cox, “a side hustle can bring you both economic empowerment and often a huge amount of creative freedom.” Hays US CEO David Brown also recently wrote about the relevance of side hustles in a COVID-19 era in which “many people have had more time to dedicate to their passions or to focus on what they really enjoy”. He added that a side hustle is not – despite what many believe – a “second job”. Instead, the term “side hustle” has slightly more aspirational and entrepreneurial connotations, “with people being the master of their own destiny.” So, if there’s something you’ve always enjoyed doing but never had sufficient time or inclination to explore, why not use this opportunity to investigate it as a possible route to building your financial safety net and even bolstering your future employability?

6. Try your best to remain positive

It is hugely important right now – for the sake of your own wellbeing – to do your best to adopt an optimistic mindset in the face of whatever circumstances you may be facing. Doing so will help you to feel calmer and better able to cope with this current period of uncertainty – and the happier you are, the more productive and indispensable you are likely to be as an employee. I can imagine that, right now, you’re thinking that staying positive during times like this is much easier said than done. And I agree, but I’ll walk you through a couple of practical steps you can take to help you remain optimistic.

  • Think about what makes you feel positive – During times when we are anxious about something, we often don’t take the time to recognise what we need to stay feeling positive, and this will differ from person to person. But right now, how we satisfy those needs may have had to change. You might not be able to do the usual things that make you feel happy, but try to explore alternative options. If, for example, going to a friend’s house isn’t currently possible, why not organise regular video chats instead? Or how about going for a 20-minute run, in the knowledge that the post-exercise endorphins will help to increase your positivity?

You may have days when you feel more optimistic without seemingly needing to make much effort to be so. When this happens, ask yourself why you may feel this way. Perhaps it was due to a specific act, such as doing some exercise or having a nice phone call with a relative? By analysing how the positivity may have arisen, you will be able to replicate it more frequently, while better understanding the cues that affect your mood and lift your spirits.

  • Practise self-care – I watched a fascinating YouTube video recently, in which Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington discusses with Harvard Business Review’s Adi Ignatius and Joshua Macht how we can all take better care of ourselves during this pandemic. Arianna addresses how crucial it is to practise self-care during this time, through simple measures such as ensuring you get enough sleep, limiting your intake of news media, restricting your use of ‘smart’ devices, and only answering work emails during working hours. Pairing these techniques with my above point around exploring activities that make you feel positive will help you to look after your mental and physical wellbeing, reducing unwelcomed feelings of anxiety and concern.
  • Know that some days will be more difficult than others – Even if you do all of the ‘right’ things for your mental health, it is important to acknowledge that there could be days that you find more challenging, or when your anxiety feels less manageable, and that this is OK. We’re all going through a lot of change right now – if not necessarily in our jobs, then certainly in terms of the wider world we’re living in – so remember to be kind to yourself and focus on tomorrow being a brighter day.

It is important to be mindful of when you might be struggling, so that you can then do something to lift your mood. Or to be a little more proactive, perhaps you could even establish a ‘thinking and thanking’ ritual, whereby you commit each day to noting down and being grateful for at least three good things that happened that day? This can further help you to maintain the focus on positivity.

  • Remind yourself that this time of challenge is temporary – and this will ultimately make you stronger. You’ve worked hard to reach this career stage, and the current situation isn’t going to unravel all of that hard work. To achieve what you have, you’ve needed to develop many skills and competencies that you didn’t previously have. If you are in any doubt about this, take the time to list your strengths and the things that you have learned. It will make you feel more positive and remind you that whatever might happen in the future, you can be confident that you have a valued skill set that many employers will welcome with open arms.

After all, our CEO Alistair Cox, wisely reflected recently that “you may have hit the pause button in your life for a period of a few weeks or a few months, but you can’t hit the stop button. […] Reflect on what you want from your life and career, understand your potential and how you can realise that potential, decide what skills you need and then go out there and get them. The ability to learn the skills you need is out there, if you have the right approach.”

The future is still bright – your path may have just meandered slightly

While there could be a number of reasons you might feel concerned right now, we should also recognise that there are an equal number of reasons to feel hopeful and optimistic about the future. Most will find that their professional life will change in some way as a result of this crisis. But remember that change doesn’t mean it will be worse, it just means it will be different. By following the above advice, you can take more control of what this change will mean for you and ensure you come out of it even stronger than before.

It’s always good to plan and prepare yourself for change in your professional career, in both good times and bad. If you take the time now to review your current skill set – both strengths and development areas – and create a proactive plan to build on them, you will be going a long way to future-proofing your career. At the same time, you should try to view the experiences that you go through now as an opportunity for growth, improving your adaptability and ability to deal with change – qualities that future employers will no doubt look for in potential employees.

As a last word, I thought I’d leave you with another Harvard Business Review video around coping with anxiety and uncertainty at work amid the coronavirus pandemic. This conversation between Amy Gallo and Morra Aarons-Melle – the latter the host of the podcast ‘The Anxious Achiever’ – covers many of the issues that professionals have to deal with at this strange time.

Hopefully, I will have helped to allay at least some of your worries in this blog, and equipped you with some of the tools and advice that will enable you to better deal with any anxieties that may remain. Adopt the most positive and forward-looking outlook now, and you will be well-placed to continue thriving professionally, long after the worst of the crisis has passed.

About this author

Alex Fraser is the Group Head of Change at Hays. Alex joined Hays from KPMG last year, from where she led the development of our own Hays Change methodology. Alex has responsibility for developing our change capability globally, driving our key strategic change projects, and ensuring that we maintain a truly agile culture, where sustainable change is a key part of the norm enabling continuing growth of the business. She brings with her with over 20 years consultancy experience, managing and leading large scale global transformation programmes and embedding sustainable change in complex environments. Alex is also a qualified professional and strengths based coach and has worked extensively with a diverse range of global organisations at all levels of businesses across the people agenda.

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