The Curse of Interesting Times
04 April 2019

Managing uncertainty – stress - change

The Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” seems to have settled heavily over the UK. At the moment I feel it would be nice to have a little gentle dullness and get on with our lives.

This week we learned that the government proposes to ask for another Brexit extension. It’s not good news for the UK. Uncertainty is an economic killer and UK business owners and managers are desperate to have clarity and certainty.

Recently a local business owner told me that he has to forward order materials on an eight-month cycle. He has no idea how much he’ll be paying and what the tariffs will be. He feels he is walking on the edge of a precipice and although the business is very successful, he doesn’t know what impact Brexit will have, whether the business will remain viable or not.

The embarrassing parliamentary arguing, dithering and mischief-making means he can’t plan. He is far from alone.

When Mrs May announced she would ask Mr Corbyn to help her end the log jam British business took a collective gasp of dismay (especially those who remember the 1970s).

Brexit. May. Corbyn. Parliament. …… OMG. Singly and together they present a bleak prospect. It’s one of the most volatile times I can ever remember. Interesting perhaps, but not peaceful and making for division, anger and great unhappiness.

Uncertainty – whatever the cause - is uncomfortable for everyone, especially when they feel they cannot influence the eventual outcome. Whether it’s political turmoil or a reorganisation at your company, employees who are concerned about their future are likely to be distracted, emotional and unproductive.

What happens in the wider world transfers to the workplace. Employees are understandably unsettled and anxious by all the shenanigans around them. What should a manager do? How can you keep people focused while also helping them cope with the feelings that change and ambiguity invoke?

Help your team stay focused despite what may be going on in the world or the office. Try to understand how you can be of service and benefit to employees while balancing the need to keep them focussed. Here are some ways to do that.

  • Look after yourself first.
  • Accept and acknowledge the uncertainty.
  • Discuss concerns openly and give people flexibility but restrain intemperate language and behaviour.
  • Encourage self-compassion.
  • Ask people what they need.
  • Focus on what you do control.
  • Encourage and model self-care.
  • Provide a sense of hope.

Bear the following in mind.


  • Accept that stress is normal — it’s a common physiological response to uncertainty.
  • Increase employees’ sense of control over their actions and work schedule.
  • Encourage people to take care of themselves by getting sleep, exercising, and eating well.


  • Neglect your own anxiety and concerns.
  • Ignore people’s emotions.
  • Let the uncertainty be an excuse for not getting work done.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2021 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.