Workplace uncertainty skyrocketed when the pandemic forced businesses to go remote and “make it work.” Companies and employees have experienced changing workforces, budgetary shifts and new technology curves in recent years. While you can’t control most of these challenging developments, you can control how you react to them.
Being adaptable when faced with change has advantages personally and professionally. By leveraging adaptability, you can face any problematic changes that come your way with grace, determination and rationality.
The benefits of being adaptable
Do you start each day with the mindset that you’re prepared to handle whatever might happen? Or does the prospect of experiencing unexpected events or circumstances leave you feeling anxious and insecure? Adaptability is the skill that influences how you respond to change. People with high adaptability are often described as being flexible, team players or able to go with the flow.
There are many benefits to being adaptable, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.
1. You’ll be more valuable to your business or employer.
An organization’s ability to adapt can be considered a competitive advantage. The same is true for individuals: Employers increasingly want workers who can adapt to an ever-changing workplace. Someone adaptable is open to new ideas and doesn’t need to do things a specific way just because that’s how they’ve always been done. They can anticipate changes and don’t panic when things don’t go according to plan.
Employers already value this trait, but it’s likely to become even more critical in the future. HR directors and recruiters are actively looking for new hires who can display adaptability as a top soft skill. If you want to gain a competitive edge on fellow job seekers while also securing marketable skills for the future, start practicing adaptability now.
Adaptability is being taught in early childhood education to prepare kids for the ever-evolving future of work.
2. You’ll be a better leader.
People who are adaptable excel as leaders. They earn the respect of their peers, inspire those around them to embrace change and help grease the cogs in the wheel of even the stickiest transitions. As a leader, you’re bound to face situations that require you to make quick decisions. If you can pivot quickly and get the rest of your team on board, you can mitigate the potential negative effects of whatever the change is. This ultimately benefits the organization as a whole. [Learn how to test for leadership ability.]
3. You’ll be happier and more satisfied with life.
Adaptability has positive psychological impacts. You’re bound to be happier with your lot when you’re comfortable making adjustments to meet evolving needs and demands. Being adaptable means not feeling hopeless and helpless in the face of change. If you can tell yourself that you have the skills and ability to change yourself, even if you can’t change the situation, you’ll find contentment regardless of your circumstances.
Nurturing adaptability can help you stabilize emotional intelligence (EI) competencies, such as positivity and self-control. Strengthening your EI can improve life satisfaction and career success.
4. You’ll be better able to handle career transitions.
Imagine you suddenly lose your job due to a decline in your industry, or your business unexpectedly needs to shut down. What’s your first move? Do you give up, resigning yourself to unemployment? Or do you take stock of your current skill set and think about how to reposition yourself to find a new opportunity?
Being adaptable can mean less time looking for work and reduced stress as you tackle a career change. You’ll stop putting off whatever you need to do to set yourself up for future success. Those who are adaptable are more willing to explore outside their comfort zones, take risks and embrace uncertainty with the understanding that transitions are a normal part of life.
5. You’ll bounce back more quickly from adversity.
Bad things happen to all of us. But if you’re adaptable, you take adversity in stride, never letting it destroy you. Instead, you adjust your thoughts and expectations to suit your new reality rather than dwelling on what could have been. Being adaptable means being resilient, and resilience will get you far in life. Challenges won’t seem all that challenging when you’ve built up a tolerance for accommodating changing circumstances.
How to be adaptable in the workplace
If you’re feeling the desire to become more adaptable or have been told you need to be more flexible, realize that the above benefits are well within your reach, but they may take a little practice. Here are some dos and don’ts to help get you there.
Do challenge your brain.
Challenge your brain to come up with innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. When you believe there’s always a solution to the problems you encounter, you train your brain to think about resolutions instead of roadblocks. You begin seeing the opportunities and silver linings in difficult situations instead of the burdens and problems. It’s a mindset switch that will improve your critical-thinking skills. [Read related article: Give Your Brain a Boost: 12 Books Guaranteed to Make You More Intelligent]
Do more than follow.
Changes in the workplace are inevitable. How you handle those changes can indicate the difference between a leader and a follower. Help team members see the positive side of change. Show confidence in decisions instead of worrying about the outcomes. Focus on increasing communication to keep people on the same page and improve efficiency. Take an active role in what’s going on rather than letting things just happen.
Do reach out for help.
While the more you embrace change, the easier it’ll become to deal with, you’re going to hit a low point every now and then. Reach out for support when needed, take a personal day to regroup and let others know it’s okay to need assistance through transitions. While dealing with the practical implications of whatever the change is, make sure you’re still attending to your personal needs. Self-care can even improve productivity, so being mindful of your well-being can help you professionally, not just personally.
Don’t be afraid of growth.
If your business is suddenly accelerating in growth, your team is expanding or unexpected opportunities come your way, don’t shy away from it. It can be scary to take risks when you’re reliant on a steady paycheck and have established routines. But the alternative can mean being left with what-ifs and regrets. Instead of seeing change as overwhelming and all-encompassing, take it one step at a time and consider all that you have to gain.
Don’t be close-minded.
Your business may thrive on tried and true processes, but an unwillingness to try new things can prevent growth, stifle creativity and hurt morale. Having an open mind is essential in business, where circumstances change daily. If you resist having a narrow mindset, you’ll be a better listener, less judgmental and able to think outside the box. This open-mindedness will help when building critical-thinking skills.
Don’t let your ego get in the way.
While the ego is not good or bad, it is naturally self-centered. Removing this perspective helps you see other viewpoints and deal with change more efficiently. Sometimes we like to control every situation, but setting your ego aside allows you to welcome other outcomes – possibly better ones. Accepting outcomes beyond your control can help you adapt quickly to unforeseen circumstances.
Don’t get stuck in your comfort zone.
Staying comfortable and steadfast to routine can harm our health when changes arise beyond our control. Diversify your daily experiences so you don’t get stuck in a rut. Even trying a new restaurant or taking an impromptu personal day can help renew your creative spirit. Business owners need to control their stress, which may mean adopting new practices and making last-minute adjustments instead of stubbornly, and detrimentally, remaining in their comfort zone.
In his book Who Moved My Cheese? (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998), Spencer Johnson asks this all-important question: What would you do if you were not afraid? When you’re adaptable, anxiety about your future is diminished, allowing you to ask (and act on) this question. When you anticipate changes and adjust your attitude and expectations accordingly, changes don’t need to disorient you. They become just another expected part of life.
Shirley Tan contributed to the writing and research in this article.