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How to be more adaptable at work when everything is changing

Portrait of a confident young businesswoman showing a thumbs up gesture in a modern office
Increasing numbers of employers see adaptability as an essential work skill. photo: Getty

The coronavirus pandemic has left many people thinking about their jobs. Although we won’t know the full impact of the crisis on the economy for some time, many businesses are struggling, firms are announcing cuts and the future looks uncertain.

Employees are also having to adapt to working under new circumstances. Some people are having to work while wearing PPE and practicing social distancing — and many are continuing to work from home. To survive in this rapidly changing world of work, both employers and employees need to be flexible.

Increasing numbers of employers see adaptability as an essential work skill. According to research by Barclays LifeSkills, 60% report that adaptability has become more important in the last decade.


“Adaptability is a critical skill at any time, although this has obviously been especially important in recent months,” says Gemma Dale, a HR, employment law and wellbeing expert and lecturer at the Liverpool John Moores University Business School. Dale is also the co-founder of The Work Consultancy.

READ MORE: What to do if your industry has been affected in the long-run by COVID-19

“When we are adaptable we are open to new experiences and learning, we don't limit ourselves through our own beliefs and we are resilient. It's a myth to think that everyone finds change difficult; some people do and some people see it as exciting, challenging and an opportunity.”

“Uncertainty is very high right now, and for some that is a key driver of stress, anxiety and overwhelm. When we are adaptable we can cope better with ambiguity and uncertainty, and this will certainly be helping people right now.”

See change as an opportunity

Some people are naturally adaptable, but it is also a skill that can be learned. “It is possible to challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone, learn new skills or open yourself up to new experiences,” Dale says. “Working on your personal resilience is a supporting skill — looking for the positives in situations and self care can also support adaptability.”

It’s not always easy, but it’s important to try and see change as an opportunity for growth. Whenever something new is proposed or put forward, embrace it and adjust the way you work.

READ MORE: Should we be taking microbreaks to get us through the day?


Being adaptable also means persevering when it gets tough. It’s about your ability to concentrate and motivate yourself during difficult times — and throwing yourself into work with as much energy as you can muster, despite the chaos.

Everyone experiences setbacks, so remember you’re not alone. Picking yourself up and carrying on, while it might seem impossible, is key. Think about problems you’ve overcome in the past, the strengths you have and how you can use these experiences and skills to your advantage.

It’s also important to seek support from friends, relatives or colleagues and take time to look after your mental wellbeing, too. Make sure you continue doing the things you enjoy, take regular breaks and time off and be as active as you can.

Learn to problem-solve

Adaptability and resilience is also about learning to cope with problems. Considered a soft skill in the workplace, an aptitude for creative and effective problem-solving is essential to weather the COVID-19 crisis. This might mean finding new ways to stay connected with colleagues and clients while working from home, for example.

READ MORE: Why we shouldn’t be trying to improve ourselves 24/7

Keeping up-to-date with the changes in your industry is also helpful as it will give you time to prepare. Although it’s not possible to know exactly what will happen in the future, having a contingency plan and being prepared for a wide variety of scenarios is useful.

⁠Careers clinic
⁠Careers clinic