Fear of the unknown is a sentiment almost everyone has experienced at some point. Whether it's changing jobs, moving to a new place, or any other significant life change, it can make even the most self-assured among us shaky.

The good news is that there are tangible steps you can take to manage and even conquer this fear.

Fear of the Unknown in the Workplace

While fear of the unknown can manifest in any realm of life, one of the most common is in the workplace.

"Few things cause more anxiety than the unknown, and few things generate more unknowns than our modern workplaces."~ Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, SHRM

With today's ever-evolving job market, it's not uncommon for employees to face a constant fear of losing their jobs, being unable to keep up with new technology and processes, or changes in management. This can have a significant impact on employee productivity and well-being.

On a cognitive level, fear of the unknown can lead to constant worry and anxiety, which can make it difficult for employees to focus on their work. This can lead to decreased productivity and efficiency.

On an emotional level, this fear can cause stress, burnout, dissatisfaction, and lower morale. It can also inhibit creativity and innovation, as employees may be less likely to take risks or embrace new ideas if they are constantly worried about potential changes or uncertainties.

Overall, fear of the unknown can create an unstable work environment that harms both individual performance and the overall workplace atmosphere.

Although fear of the unknown can be a powerful and overwhelming emotion, there are steps you can take to overcome it.

9 Effective techniques for conquering fears of the unknown:

    1. Identify the source

      Before you can tackle your fear, it's crucial to understand what's causing it. Uncertainty often triggers anxiety because it disrupts our ability to plan and control. Take some time to reflect on your fears and identify what triggers them. Is it a fear of change? A lack of control or certainty? By recognizing and acknowledging your fears, you can begin to take steps toward managing and overcoming them.

    2. educate yourself

      In the face of uncertainty, knowledge can be incredibly empowering. If you are worried about changes in your workplace, take the time to educate yourself on these changes. Attend training sessions, ask questions, and familiarize yourself with new processes or technologies. This will help you feel more prepared for potential changes and increase your understanding and confidence in your abilities.

    3. focus on what you can control

      Often, our fears stem from a sense of powerlessness. While we cannot control everything that happens to us, we can control how we respond. Focus on the aspects of a situation that you can control, such as your attitude, actions, and preparation. This will help you feel more in charge and better equipped to handle whatever challenges come your way.

    4. Embrace uncertainty

      While it may seem counterintuitive, embracing uncertainty can actually help alleviate the fear of the unknown. Instead of viewing change or new situations as a threat, try to see them as opportunities for growth and learning. Embrace the idea that change is a natural part of life and can lead to new experiences and opportunities.

    5. gain perspective

      Sometimes fear stems from overestimating failure and underestimating personal resilience. It's essential to reframe these thoughts. One approach is mindfulness; focus on the present moment instead of hypothetical future disasters. Meditation can also help by calming the mind, making it easier to see issues more clearly without the emotional fog.

    6. small experiments

      One effective strategy to overcome fear is by taking small, calculated risks related to the unknown you're concerned about. For instance, if you're apprehensive about relocating for a job, you could visit the new city for a weekend to explore. These small experiments can provide firsthand knowledge, making the unknown slightly known and therefore less intimidating.

    7. set actionable goals

      Setting concrete, achievable goals can turn an overwhelming task into a series of manageable steps. For instance, if you're afraid of public speaking, instead of focusing on the entire presentation, break it down into parts like research, slide preparation, and rehearsal. Also, be flexible. Life rarely goes according to plan, so adaptability can reduce the impact of unexpected events on your stress levels.

    8. social support

      Don't underestimate the power of a strong support network. Talking through your fears can not only help you identify their source but can also offer new perspectives. Trusted mentors or advisors who have faced similar situations can provide invaluable advice. Support groups, whether formal or just a group of friends, can offer emotional support and practical tips for overcoming your fears.

    9. seek professional help

      If your fear of the unknown is significantly impacting your life, it may be time to consult a professional. Your company may offer an employee assistance program with psychologists, coaches, or counselors who can offer expert advice tailored to you. Therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are designed to challenge and change your negative thought patterns and behaviors, helping you to deal more effectively with your fears.

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How Can Employers Help?

Employers can also play a crucial role in helping employees overcome the fear of the unknown in the workplace.  

5 ways employers can support their employees:

  1. open and transparent communication

    One of the biggest contributors to fear of the unknown is a lack of communication. Employers should strive to keep their employees informed about any potential changes or uncertainties and be transparent about their plans for the future. This not only helps alleviate fears but also builds trust and fosters a positive workplace culture.

  2. Encouraging a Growth Mindset

    A growth mindset is the belief that one's abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication. Employers can foster a growth mindset in their employees by promoting continuous learning and development opportunities, encouraging risk-taking and creative thinking, and recognizing and rewarding employees for their efforts, not just their successes.

  3. Providing resources for managing stress

    Employers can also support their employees by providing resources for managing stress and anxiety. This could include offering an employee assistance program that offers mental health resources like therapy or counseling, promoting work-life balance, and encouraging healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise or mindfulness practices.

  4. leading by example

    As a leader in the workplace, employers should model a positive and resilient attitude towards change and uncertainty. By staying calm, adaptable, and optimistic in the face of potential challenges, employers can help alleviate their employees' fears and inspire them to do the same.

  5. Work with professionals

    Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can be a valuable tool in addressing employees' fear of the unknown. These programs provide a variety of services designed to support employees' mental, emotional, and psychological well-being. EAPs often include counseling services, which can be instrumental in helping employees manage anxiety and fear triggered by changes or uncertainties at work. Employees can work with trained professionals to develop strategies for managing stress, enhancing resilience, and building coping mechanisms.

    Moreover, EAPs usually offer resources for personal development, such as career counseling or skill-building workshops, which can empower employees to confidently navigate workplace changes. The anonymity of EAPs can also encourage employees to seek help without fear of stigma or judgment. Overall, by providing support for employees' holistic well-being, EAPs can help create a more resilient workforce capable of embracing the unknown.

Fear of the unknown may be prevalent in the workplace, but with understanding, education, support, and a growth mindset, we can learn to confront and overcome these fears. Employers can help by communicating clearly and ensuring that employees have access to the information and support they need.

When you partner with Ulliance, our Life Advisor Consultants are always just a phone call away to teach ways to enhance your work/life balance and increase your happiness. The Ulliance Life Advisor Employee Assistance Program can help employees and employers come closer to a state of total well-being.

Investing in the right EAP or Wellness Program to support your employees will help them and help you.  Visit https://ulliance.com/ or call 866-648-8326.

The Ulliance Employee Assistance Program can address the
following issues:

• Stress about work or job performance
• Crisis in the workplace
• Conflict resolution at work or in one’s personal life
• Marital or relationship problems
• Child or elder care concerns
• Financial worries
• Mental health problems
• Alcohol/substance abuse
• Grief
• Interpersonal conflicts

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8 Ways To Create Certainty Amid Current Workplace Uncertainty, Bryan Robinson, Society for Human Resources Management https://www.shrm.org/executive/resources/pages/create-uncertainty-0423.aspx

12 Tips for Overcoming Your Fear of Change at Work, Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes

How to Cope With the Fear of the Unknown, Morgan Mandriota, VeryWell Mind

How to Overcome Your Fear of the Unknown, Nathan Furr and Susannah Harmon Furr, Harvard Business Review

Reducing Anxiety by Helping Employees Deal With Uncertainty, Adrian Gostick And Chester Elton, Society for Human Resources Management https://blog.shrm.org/blog/reducing-anxiety-by-helping-employees-deal-with-uncertainty