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Dealing With Uncertainty. How to manage stress, change and anger. Personnel Department Medical Services Division: Psychology Section 213/473-6958. Stressors in Times of Uncertainty. Uncertainty about the budget

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dealing with uncertainty

Dealing With Uncertainty

How to manage stress, change and anger

Personnel Department

Medical Services Division: Psychology Section


stressors in times of uncertainty
Stressors in Times of Uncertainty
  • Uncertainty about the budget
  • Lack of consensus on a plan (Mayor, City Council, City Depts, Public Safety, Unions)
  • Layoffs—how many, who, when
  • ERIPs—how many, who, when
  • Furloughs – how many hours/days; money lost
  • What our tasks will be if we remain employed
  • What our Depts will look like through and after the transitions
stressors in times of uncertainty3
Stressors in Times of Uncertainty
  • Receiving information that
    • Comes too slowly
    • Is incomplete
    • Is inaccurate
    • Is unpredictable (organic; erratic)
    • Is sensitive or confidential
stressors in times of uncertainty4
Stressors in Times of Uncertainty

Downsizing or layoff stress differs from other types of workplace stress..

You can’t change your work performance to stop it

Beyond immediate control of Management

Affects wider percentage of the workforce

Can be long-lasting and may reoccur

Invades the home/everyone asks about it

stressors in times of uncertainty5
Stressors in Times of Uncertainty
  • Stressor
    • Fear of losing our job and/or
    • Ability to care for ourselves
  • Which can lead to
    • Lack of trust in management
    • Lack of trust in co-workers
    • Lack of respect for boss and/or City

Uncertainty is more stressful

than hearing bad news

dealing with uncertainty8
Dealing With Uncertainty
  • People thrive on predictability and control.
    • We are built to resist change.
    • We have scripts we live by.
dealing with uncertainty9
Dealing with Uncertainty

We look for answers—

Wherever we can find them

dealing with uncertainty10
Dealing with Uncertainty

We may precipitate an “ending” to stop the uncertainty

Or refuse to think about it at all

common reactions

feels like



roller coaster

Common Reactions
common reactions13
Common Reactions
  • Trouble concentrating on the job
    • More inward focus leads to more errors and accidents
  • Wasted time/decreased productivity
    • Lack of energy/motivation
    • Distractibility
    • Higher absenteeism
  • Delayed decisions
    • Resistance against management decisions
    • Pessimism
common reactions14
Common Reactions
  • Worry/anxiety
  • Withdrawal/sense of loneliness
  • Increase in substance use
  • Can lead to family problems/health problems

Increased stress impacts

mood, sleep,

physical health, behavior

common reaction grief
Common Reaction--Grief

Change =Loss = Grief

  • Grieving process begins with threat of loss
  • Loss can lead to sadness/depression
  • Failure to acknowledge and prepare for grief can result in morale and productivity problems
common reaction grief16
Common Reaction--Grief

Loss (for some) of…

  • Predictability
  • Trust
  • Wages and benefits
  • Role as worker and provider
  • Control over one’s life
  • Structure of daily life
  • The work family
common reaction anger
Common Reaction--Anger

Anger is an emotion that often propels us to move toward the source

  • Perceived unfairness
  • Inability to reach our goals
  • Reaction to THREAT
  • Perceived lack of caring or thoughtfulness
  • Shame/sense of failure/guilt
common reaction anger18

Negative attitude toward work

Potential for aggression, sabotage

For those not laid off--anger/resentment about redistribution of labor

Common Reaction--Anger
there are no difficult people fundamental attribution error
There are no “difficult” peopleFundamental Attribution Error
  • You behave the way you do because of who you are.
  • I behave the way I do because the situation makes me.
responding to anger
Responding to Anger

Angry people want two things…

  • They want to BE HEARD
    • They want you to LISTEN TO THEM
    • They want acknowledgement
    • They want reassurance
    • They want you to take them seriously
responding to anger22
Responding to Anger
  • They want you to FIX THE PROBLEM
    • They want financial security
    • They want the job to get done
    • They want you to do what they want, when they want it
responding to anger23
Responding to Anger
  • Ask the purpose of their call or visit
  • Always introduce yourself and your role
  • Establish rapport
  • Acknowledge the difficult times
  • Ask diversionary questions
  • Try to give choices
  • Ask how they’ve dealt with similar situations in the past
  • Provide City resources
responding to anger24
Responding to Anger

FIRST acknowledge the feelings and upset of the other person.

  • Once the person starts to calm down,

THEN move to solving the problem

under stress we don t listen well
Under stress we don’t listen well

Always listen before providing any kind of answer.

  • Ask questions to gain greater clarification.
  • Restate their problem to them.
  • Find an area of agreement and tell them they are right.
responding to anger26
Responding to Anger

Take it seriously, but don’t take it personally

  • Others will likely focus their frustration at you.
  • You might feel personally attacked.
  • You might want to defend yourself.
  • Don’t defend yourself by attacking back
under the anger are fear and hurt
Under the Anger are Fear and Hurt

What seems like a call to fight

is often a plea for assistance.

avoid going nose to nose
Avoid Going Nose--to--Nose
  • Angry people may get “in your face”
  • They want you to be “on their side”
  • Find a way to “join” with them
    • Empathize, agree or pretend you do
  • Once you are side-by-side, you can work together
responding to anger29
Responding to Anger

Emotions can be contagious

  • Hostility often begets more hostility
  • Empathize, but don’t join in
  • Diffuse the emotion by remaining calm and reasonable
  • Be patient
responding to anger30
Responding to Anger
  • Don’t shame or blame
  • Avoid accusations
  • Ask, don’t demand
  • Don’t interrupt
be affirming and positive
Be Affirming and Positive

Get the person to articulate what problem resolution would look like in this specific case.

  • Keep your body language relaxed
  • Use the angry person’s name
  • Find a way to say, “You’re Right”
expect a five minute anger snap
Expect a five minute anger snap
  • Occurs about five minutes after the person has gotten mad.
  • People cling to the resentment.
  • A few minutes after you think it’s over, their anger might return.
  • Expect this and stay calm. 
  • The second snap is about them having the final say. 
  • Don’t feed or fuel it.
anger and aggression
Anger and Aggression
  • Most Anger Does Not Lead to Physical Aggression.
  • However, be alert to…
    • Immediate threat of physical harm
    • Endangering of lives
    • Weapons
    • Someone making a direct threat
    • Someone expressing suicidal or homicidal feelings
press the panic button if it s potentially life threatening or if you re in doubt
Press the Panic Button…If it’s potentially life threatening, or if you’re in doubt


responding to aggression
Responding to Aggression
  • Allow angry people to physically escape the situation.
  • Don’t block their way or prevent exit, or you may be putting yourself in a dangerous situation.
  • Take off the heat rather than increasing the pressure!
  • Don’t insist on solving the problem “now” when the other person is in an agitated state.

Even though a choice, person may not

really be ready

for retirement.

May have lived to work instead of

worked to live.


Loss of predictability

Loss of role as worker and provider

Loss of structure of daily life

Loss of the work family

Difficulty knowing what to say to those who are being laid off when retirees had a choice

People “disappear”—here one day, gone the next


As people retire, they often take with them the history of the Dept. and the accumulated knowledge/culture.

Others are often left to perform their tasks without necessary training or mentoring.

Many of the experienced staff who retire were the mentors--the ones others went to for advice or guidance.

responding to a layoff42

Responding to a Layoff

We cannot always control what comes our way.

We can only control how we respond to it.

responding to a layoff43
Responding to a Layoff

One moment of patience may ward off a great disaster.

One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.

Practice Patience

responding to a layoff behaviors
Responding to a Layoff--Behaviors
  • Normalize/maintain structure
    • Focus on what you can control
    • Create a schedule and stick to it
    • Compartmentalize job search--balance
    • Exercise, eat sensibly, focus on remaining healthy
    • Take time in making big decisions
    • Monitor distractibility (driving, forms, etc.)
responding to a layoff emotions
Responding to a Layoff--Emotions
  • Don’t give into negative emotions
    • Be aware of your emotions and label them
    • Channel anger into positive action
      • Update resume, job search plan, job assistance resources
    • Don’t blame yourself—many are sharing this crisis with you
  • Take care of heart, head and soul
responding to a layoff interpersonal
Responding to a Layoff--Interpersonal
  • Share with family
    • Family picks up on mood.
    • Keep your emotional center.
    • Be prepared for changing roles in family.
    • Talk to your children; involve them appropriately.
  • Reach out to others
    • Make a list of people who can be supportive.
    • Don’t be embarrassed to talk about the situation.
    • Don’t be afraid to “not” talk about it.
responding to a layoff finances
Responding to a Layoff--Finances
  • Start getting rid of debt
  • Simplify
  • Start saving money for lean times—emergency funds
  • Find value in activities that don’t cost money

Cutting back in spending enables people to rediscover the value in other things


Identify what you can and cannot control

Don’t be surprised if you feel unmotivated and unhappy

Manage your emotions

Don’t let anger, resentment, anxiety reduce productivity or justify poor service

Keep to your routines

Be considerate of each other

  • Encourage collaboration
    • Assist each other in your changing work roles
    • Be willing to give suggestions
    • Recognize the complexities of management decisions
  • If possible, start new projects
    • People are often energized by

new ideas and fresh starts

finding an up in upheaval53
Finding an Up in Upheaval

We are in this together

finding an up in upheaval54
Finding an Up in Upheaval
  • Defining moment for You
    • “Why me?” becomes “Why not me?”
    • You may feel more productive, efficient, and energized by the current crisis.
    • You may not like the job you are assigned, but it may teach you marketable skills.
    • You might choose to take this opportunity to pursue a new endeavor, a dream, a passion.
finding an up in upheaval55
Finding an Up in Upheaval

When one door closes, another opens.

But we often look so regretfully upon the closed door that we don’t see the one that has opened for us.

Alexander Graham Bell

finding an up in upheaval56
Finding an Up in Upheaval

Keep your sense of humor

words of wisdom
Words of Wisdom

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.Martin Luther King Jr.

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.Swami Satchidananda

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others throw at him.David Brinkley