Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

How to Stay Grounded Through Organizational Chaos

A sudden change in leadership, a corporate restructuring, a rough-and-tumble economy — things can sometimes get chaotic at work. When they do, maintaining your balance becomes a challenge. So, how can you find your footing? Where should you turn for support? And what’s the best way to stay focused on your goals and priorities, both here and now and in the long term?

What the Experts Say
Navigating turbulence at work is an inevitable part of professional life, and it’s not often an enjoyable experience. When you’re grappling with your boss’s abrupt departure, or layoffs in your department, or an unexpected team reorg, it can feel like the ground is shifting. Just because chaos is an unavoidable reality doesn’t mean you have to surrender to it, says Erica Roberts, an organizational leadership development consultant and executive career coach. Learning to stay centered is key. “There’s no stability in the world today,” she says. “Change is constant, so rather than fear it, embrace it and adapt to it.”

Indeed, if you approach the chaos with an open mind and a measure of resilience, it might even have some upside for your career, says Rebecca Homkes, a lecturer at London Business School and author of the book, Survive, Reset, Thrive: Leading Breakthrough Growth Strategy in Volatile Times. The goal, she says, is to “make the most out of the changes by looking for new opportunities and possibilities.” Here’s how.

Give yourself grace.
Hectic changes at work can “stir up anxiety, anger, and frustration,” says Roberts. Being affected by these dynamics isn’t a sign of weakness. “Allow yourself to feel your feelings,” she says. Change can be disorienting, so be gentle with yourself. It’s normal not to feel normal for a while. “When something happens at work, many people — especially high performers — think they need to go right back to thrive,” meaning pushing themselves to operate at peak performance, according to Homkes. “But you need to give yourself permission to be in survival mode,” at least temporarily. This doesn’t involve “moping around and feeling sorry for yourself.” Instead, it’s about taking “time to stabilize,” she says. If you don’t, “how do you explore the right reset for you and your career?”

Build resilience.
In the immediate aftermath of upheaval, “a purposeful pause” is in order — but be careful not to let inertia linger. The risk is that it becomes “a holding pattern of fear” and stagnation, says Homkes. “When we talk about uncertainty we usually frame it as a terrible thing we have to deal with and overcome,” she says. But she suggests thinking about uncertainty from a different, and simpler, perspective: a series of future events that may or may not occur.

Rather than obsessively ruminating on what lies ahead or worrying about how things will unfold, Homkes proposes a thought exercise. Consider: “What could make me and what could break me?” Such an approach fosters resilience and helps you recognize that even in the worst-case scenarios — losing your job, getting reassigned, or having a project pulled — you wouldn’t be ruined. “You calm down,” she says. The ultimate goal is to shift from a defensive mindset of self-protection to fostering a growth mindset that embraces new possibilities.

Seek support.
Research points to the many benefits of having strong work relationships — especially when things are hairy. “Hopefully, you’ve already established connections with your team so when chaos happens, you’re not isolated,” says Roberts. Decompressing with colleagues can feel cathartic and some venting is to be expected. Still, Roberts advises against relying too heavily on your colleagues for help. “Be discerning about how you process your feelings about what’s going on at your organization, and be careful about what you say even with good work friends,” she says. Your comments might be misinterpreted or shared without your knowledge. Whatever you do, resist the urge to post about work chaos on social media. “There’s danger in oversharing, and what you say could have future consequences, says Roberts. “It’s safer to confide in trusted personal networks outside of work,” such as your spouse, your friends, or a therapist.

Be positive and opportunistic…
You might find there’s a silver lining to the turmoil happening at work. That’s why Homkes advises “being heads up, not heads down” about everything going on and keeping an open mind. Roberts recommends asking yourself three questions: How do these changes affect my current position? How do they affect how I view the organization and/or my future in the organization? And what opportunities arise from these changes that allow me to advance my career or enhance my professional skills?

The answers might not be immediately clear, though a positive outlook could make all the difference. “You can choose to look at the chaos as an obstacle to overcome, or you can see it as an opportunity to grow,” says Roberts. For example, you could think, “This downsizing is going to hold me back because I will be saddled with more work and I won’t get the direction I need from my manager.” Or instead, “This downsizing is giving me the chance to demonstrate my leadership skills and take on additional responsibilities that will expand my skill set.”

…But stay objective, too.
While a dose of optimism is necessary in difficult times, you mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Upheaval at your organization doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s in trouble (although, of course, it’s possible). But constant upheaval and a lack of clear direction might signify that your organization is struggling to effectively navigate challenges. “Every organization faces uncertainty, but some organizations handle it better than others,” says Homkes. “Change without a destination is unhealthy, and if you don’t see a guiding purpose and midterm strategy, that’s a sign that your organization isn’t good about how it communicates uncertainty with its employees.”

If your organization’s approach raises concerns or if you find yourself constantly questioning its strategies, it’s worth considering whether you’re in the right place. While “pretending that certainty exists is delusional,” it’s possible to find an organization that’s more aligned with your values, and where work feels less like a constant whiplash, says Homkes.

Reflect and reevaluate.
The chaos and tumult could be a catalyst for reevaluating your current position and considering what you want out of your career, according to Roberts. “People don’t often take the time to assess their strengths, talents, and priorities as it relates to their work.” She suggests checking in with yourself. What do you want to accomplish? What’s important to you? You might find that you’re mostly satisfied with your job and professional life; or you might decide it’s time to explore new opportunities or make changes. “There are so many things you don’t have control over, but you do have control over defining success for yourself and how you position yourself to achieve it,” she says. “This might be the push you need to do that.”

Principles to Remember

  • Give yourself permission to feel overwhelmed and unsure amid the chaos.
  • Seek support from family members, friends, and others in your trusted personal network.
  • Seize the opportunity for introspection — it might reinforce that you’re satisfied in your job or it might prompt you to consider new opportunities.


  • Linger in defeatism. Instead, shift your perspective to view the chaos as an avenue for growth, rather than an obstacle to overcome.
  • Vent too much to colleagues. Be cautious about what you share with them, as your comments might be misinterpreted or shared without your knowledge.
  • Lose sight of the bigger picture. Constant upheaval and a lack of direction at your organization might signal underlying issues.

by Rebecca Knight
Harvard Business Review – February 2024