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Don't Do These 3 Things When you are Experiencing Chaos at Work

Posted on January 8, 2020
Looks like a child's drawing of a stick-type figure drawing with multi-colored squiggly lines drawn all around the person.

Years ago, when I worked at Bank of Boston, the company went through an extended period of upheaval, marked by a series of layoffs, plunging stock prices, resignations – all of which caused uncertainty and anxiety – in other words, CHAOS. I remember one of my colleagues at the time asked, “How are we supposed to work through all of this?”

Since those days, I have worked in other companies and organizations when chaos has reared its head, and people still ask the same question – “How am I supposed to work through all of this?” While it is incumbent upon management to reduce the level of chaos (and that’s a different conversation), there is a simple, but likely not popular, answer – put your head down and get to work.

When chaos ensues, the best action you can take is to get to work. Unfortunately, many get caught up in a myriad of different actions and responses that only further perpetuate the chaos. There are three distinct things you can do to lessen the impact of chaotic times at work:

Avoid Office Gossip and Politics

Speculation around the water cooler is more destructive than helpful. Often those who claim to be “in the know” are actually disseminating false information. This further deepens the sense of chaos for most people. It also means you are spending time in the land of negativity and inaccuracy versus at your desk being productive, where YOU can make a difference.

Avoid Personal Speculation

Avoid the rabbit hole. While it can be productive to think about possibilities if there are actions you can take to make the situation better, sliding down the rabbit hole of negativity is unproductive. For example, if you fear your department is being moved across the country and you have no interest in going, then you might want to decide to look for another position at a different company, or you might want to reduce your spending for a few months to see how things shake out. But obsessing over whether or not this will happen and running through all the worst-case scenarios will leave you exhausted and unproductive.

Avoid Emotional Displays

When we get overloaded with worry, it can often play out with emotion. You want to avoid emotional displays when there is chaos around you. First, it leaves others to assume you are not capable of adjusting to change, which is an important skill for leaders; and second, it can be embarrassing or leave others view you as less stable.

We are often in a state of flux and chaos can be present without warning. Chaos can last short bursts of time or it can hang around with no apparent departure date. Regardless of the type or the duration, the best thing you can do is continue to do your job. Demonstrate to those around you – colleagues, subordinates, and management that you can continue to perform in these circumstances. Think about it this way, if your company has had a tough year and is about to lay off 10% of the workers (across department and at all levels), the last thing you want to do is put a target on your back by being emotional, speculating in the hallways, stirring up others, and most important, as unproductive. Of course, it is more difficult to be productive if you are worried about the impact of change, especially if that change might result in you losing your job, but the reality is you are more likely to be one of the ones chosen if you can’t get your work done because you are worrying around the office.

So, make your “To do” lists and get your work completed on a daily basis. Think outside the box, be creative, show those around and above you that you are contributing, you are innovative, and you can adapt to change.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in professional-development-career-tips