The U.S. Army War College introduced the acronym “VUCA” in 1987 to describe the post-Cold War world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Workplace experts have since embraced the acronym as well, teaching corporate leaders to analyze problems through the framework of VUCA to help facilitate effective solutions.
While the use of VUCA helps top-level organizational leaders with decision-making, the fact that VUCA is such an accurate description of today’s workplace can also help explain why it feels more stressful. A 2018 Korn Ferry Institute survey found that employee stress levels have risen nearly 20% over the last three decades. Employees are struggling to cope with constant change, the inability to predict what is coming and seemingly infinite variables in their day-to-day work.
There’s no quick fix to make the workplace less VUCA. With the continual leaps forward in technology and the coming wave of artificial Intelligence, things will only get more complicated. Stress has two inputs: the circumstances and the employee’s reaction to the circumstances. Since circumstances are often difficult (if not impossible) to control, employees who want to reduce their stress should take time to learn how to control their reaction to the circumstances.
It’s so easy when something challenging happens in the workplace to let one’s mind run away with a big, scary story. “This company is going down the drain,” “my coworkers are so lazy,” “our customers are so stupid,” “my boss is horrible.” The things we tell ourselves can create our reality. The truth is never as bad as the story we tell ourselves, and the alternative is never as good as our fantasies (that is, the grass is rarely greener on the other side of the fence).
This is where mindfulness can be extremely valuable. Some people dismiss meditation and mindfulness as “alternative” practices used by those who hold a “crunchy granola” worldview, but increasingly business leaders throughout the United States are seeing the benefits of these practices. The simplest form of meditation is time spent in silence focused on the breath. The mind will wander into other thoughts during this time. The magic of meditation is learning how to identify when the mind has wandered and to redirect the thoughts to the breath.
It’s not necessary to spend hours and hours meditating. A focused, quiet time period of 5-10 minutes each morning spent in silence is enough. The practice of identifying the mind wandering and refocusing the mind to the breath, when practiced consistently over time, will help an individual build the ability to recognize when their mind is running away with a story as a result of challenging circumstances in the workplace.
The idea that we can control our own experience of stress can be life-changing. It doesn’t require extensive study or expensive classes, all it requires is a willingness to reframe your perception.