Three Powerful Strategies for Navigating Uncertainty in Your Workplace

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By Steven A. White

Healthcare professionals have encountered more uncertainty than perhaps any other field since early 2020. National politics, technological disruptions, and the new economy of doing more with less have disrupted healthcare workers today—not to mention the personal toll that has accumulated over time.

Uncertainty is something that I’ve become well acquainted with over the years. In fact, it has been a way of life since an early age. Raised by a single mother who had four mouths to feed prepared me in ways that I never could have imagined and informed many of my practices as a young adult, a seasoned professional, and an executive at a top-twenty company in the U.S.  

COVID continues to show us signs that it’s here to stay in various forms. Creating our own sense of certainty—often fabricating it as needed—becomes a critical skill in healthcare and other fields that are experiencing shifting ground. The practices below have proven useful to me—especially when change is ongoing and coming from every direction. You can create more certainty in your work life by engaging in these practices:

Getting clear on your why

The single greatest opportunity you have to create more certainty in your life is to personally align with your why. Having a why is your individual anchor, is more fulfilling, and gives your worldview meaning. Having purpose allows you to tolerate uncertainty. Discovering what matters to you is what I call “finding your fight.” What are you willing to fight for? What amount of uncertainty or risk are you willing to tolerate because you have purpose in your life? When you apply your fight filter to these questions, the answers come easily. 

Having purpose is essential to resiliency or the ability to adapt and grow from your experiences and persist with your goals. Research studies indicate that if we live with purpose, we’re also likely to live longer, have better health, and make better lifestyle choices.

Owning what you can control

When we don’t have control over our dynamics at work, we have to manufacture a sense of control elsewhere in our lives. This starts with owning your attitude and effort. Find a time at least once a week when you can be alone with your thoughts. I like to plan my priorities and visit my goals on Sundays. This “alignment check” is a great opportunity to reflect and gain clarity on what I need and what I might do for others in the days ahead. I have colleagues who like to use this time to meditate or read because it restores their attitude and rejuvenates their efforts. Whatever the activity, make sure it’s something you do for yourself and for your peace of mind.

Another approach to establishing constancy is by creating a weekly checklist of your priorities. Author and coach James Robbins has built a reputation for helping managers inspire positive attitudes and greater efforts by creating his Nine-Minutes-on-Monday approach. The idea is to prioritize the needs that your team members have. Robbins focuses on care, mastery, recognition, purpose, autonomy, growth, connection, enjoyment, and direction. 

Robbins uses this nine-item checklist to revisit needs versus daily actions, which allows him to stay constantly aligned and gives certainty to his weekly methods. He knows that if he adheres to these focus areas, his team members have an easier time handling unpredictability in the workplace. Consider Robbins’ list or one of your own and check it consistently to provide more certainty on the job.

Forming small yet significant routines

Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, reports that people naturally transition from full focus to physiological fatigue every ninety minutes. While workflows change due to modifications in service, such as telehealth or virtual care, developing habits that allow you to rest and renew can create a sense of structure and stability. These are habits that can flex with your changing schedule but happen regularly. Atomic Habits author James Clear says that habitual practices don’t have to be difficult. Small and easy routines are incredibly powerful.

For instance, timeouts such as stretching, walking, or mingling with colleagues on- and offline help you refuel no matter what evolves on the job. MIT’s Robert Pozen recommends taking a fifteen-minute break every seventy-five to ninety minutes because the brain works in two modes: focusing and consolidation. Frequent breaks help the brain retain and consolidate what they’ve learned after focusing for a period of time. 

One habit that I incorporate into my work routine is to build in extra time when I schedule meetings so everyone can connect socially before the agenda starts. This accomplishes two things: 1) we’re giving the team a human-centered moment and a “brain break” to connect on nonwork topics before we focus on our agenda, and 2) we’re building camaraderie and trust within the group—an essential ingredient for uncertain times.

While the healthcare field offers more than its fair share of uncertainty, thanks to environmental and societal influences, the profession also draws those who are seeking a higher purpose by helping others. By getting clear on your why, owning what you can control, and forming small but significant routines, chances are you’ll find relief from uncertainty. It may even help you gain clarity on what’s worth fighting for.

As president of Comcast’s West Division for 11 years, Steve White created a culture defined by the philosophy of “Working Together to Win Together.” Driven by continuous learning, radical responsibility, and an unwavering commitment to excellence, Steve was responsible for all Comcast Cable operations in the Western U.S., leading nearly 30,000 employees, serving over 11 million customers, and driving annual revenue of nearly $18 billion. Today, Steve applies the same winning philosophy to his new post as president and special counsel to the CEO of Comcast Cable. Steve is the author of Uncompromising: How an Unwavering Commitment to Your Why Leads to an Impactful Life and Lasting Legacy. Learn more at www.stevewhitespeaks.com