The world of work is changing, thanks primarily to technological innovation and the impact of the Great Recession. While instability within the global job market has limited the number of employment opportunities that are available, so too the development of mobile technology and remote communication has empowered people to work on an independent basis.

This is set to come to a head in 2020, by which time technology giant Intuit estimates that up to 40% of the American workforce will be self-employed. If this trend were to come to fruition, the subsequent rise in the number of employers would actively help the job market to evolve by creating additional opportunities.

While we may all have dreamed of working for ourselves at one time or another, it is not something that suits everyone. It is certainly not an idea that should be considered as a way of escaping a difficult or challenging work environment. Entrepreneurship demands a unique set of characteristics that not all individuals possess. If you are faced with a problem in the workplace or find yourself struggling to adapt to your professional environment, it is far better for you to confront the issues and develop viable coping mechanisms. Here are 10 ways to cope with a difficult work environment:

1. Avoid becoming emotional when dealing with professional criticism

One of the key issues in the workplace is a perceived lack of appreciation, especially when you consider that today’s employees are increasingly motivated by job satisfaction and the respect of their managers. With this in mind, attempting to deal with criticism can be a difficult and emotionally fraught process, which can easily turn into a conflict of egos that is detrimental to your career. Instead, it is important to consider the criticism in a professional context, and use its message as a way of highlighting potential problems and improving your performance in the workplace.

2. Empower your colleagues through praise

On a similar note, it is important to treat your colleagues with respect and in a manner that you would find acceptable. The employees of a company are all pulling together to achieve a common set of goals, which means that there is a pressing need for unity, mutual respect and a keen sense of collaboration. With this in mind, do not be afraid to praise and congratulate your colleagues on a job well done, as this may ultimately diffuse tension in the workplace and cultivate a more harmonious environment.

3. Be a proactive communicator

While criticism and negativity can be detrimental in the workplace, it is a lack of communication that will ultimately sour your experience in any given job. If you are having issues with your boss and struggling to meet their requirements, for example, this situation cannot improve unless you become a proactive communicator who can address the underlying problems. So take a positive step and approach your manager, making it clear that you are open to amending your methodology and outlook so long as they are able to confirm their exact needs. This enables you to assume control of the situation and resolve it effectively.

4. Think carefully before escalating your issues with higher management

If you are experiencing a direct conflict with a supervisor or colleague, it is always tempting to escalate your complaint with higher management. However, this is not an effective way of dealing with workplace angst, primarily because it can reflect badly on your reputation and inhibit your chances of career progression in the long term. While you must always retain the right to escalate your complaint up the chain of command in extreme circumstances that involve workplace bullying, for example, you should avoid this course of action until you’ve first exhausted every form of direct mediation with the individual in question.

5. Go beyond the call of duty by doing more than is required

Although you may not realise it, there may be occasions where your approach to work or the attitude that you display are central to the challenges that you face. If you are struggling in the workplace, it is wise to honestly appraise your performance and whether or not you are applying yourself in a committed and professional manner. If you are not but remain serious about developing your career, it is time to commit to your role and prove that you are willing to go above and beyond your designated duties. This not only demonstrates your value to an employer, but it will also help your colleagues to see you in an entirely different and more positive light.

6. Do not partake in workplace gossip

Many of the issues caused within the workplace are triggered by gossip or personal complaints, which have little or nothing with the job in hand. This is partly down to a modern trend for sharing too much personal information in the workplace, which in turn creates over-familiarity between colleagues and brings non-work related topics into the office. As much as possible, you should refrain from engaging in personal workplace gossip, as otherwise you may find yourself dragged into a conflict that has absolutely nothing to do with you. Remain reserved in your conduct at all times, and keep a clear distinction between your personal and professional lives.

7. Develop coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult co-workers

While idle gossip and the carefree actions of others can have a detrimental effect on your enjoyment of the workplace, it is important to remember that your co-workers are unique individuals with different temperaments, outlooks and personal characteristics. Occasional conflicts and disagreements are therefore unavoidable, but you can avoid the majority of these by recognising difficult or volatile colleagues and developing viable coping mechanisms. If your supervisor is prone to sudden bursts of anger or frustration, then learn to identify the signs and excuse yourself before you become a target.

8. Focus on developing a positive work-life balance

For anyone who lives and breathes their job, experiencing difficulties within the workplace can have a huge impact on their quality of life. This has been supported by recent research conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, who claimed that employees on zero-hours contracts and who had minimal interaction with their workplace were far more likely to have a more positive work-life balance. It is therefore crucial that you have hobbies and passions to pursue outside of work, as this will help you to cope during times of professional conflict or dissatisfaction.

9. Develop a ‘Plan B’

When workplace conflicts take a turn for the worse, it is easy to become disheartened and discouraged. It is therefore crucial that you keep your options open and consider the benefits of following an alternative career path. By updating and distributing your resume, networking with potential clients and honing your industry skills with professional qualifications, it is possible to both advance your career and take control of your existing workplace problems. This is the ultimate coping mechanism, as it increases your chances of finding a permanent resolution and moving forward in your career.

10. Be prepared to leave for pastures new

Of course, no matter how hard you try, you may ultimately have to accept that your workplace issues cannot be resolved. This may be due to unmanageable levels of stress or a conflict of personalities. However, the only way to progress in this instance is to be proactive and seek out alternative employment. This means that you must be fully prepared to follow and implement your back-up plan, as hesitation or a failure to commit may leave you stranded in an untenable position. While leaving a secure job may require considerable courage in the current climate, it may also be your only option if you cannot adapt to your environment or the attitude of your co-workers.

The Bottom Line

In order to adapt to a difficult work environment and develop coping mechanisms for specific conflicts and individuals, your ability to be proactive is pivotal. This not only enables you to confront issues head-on and communicate directly with those at the heart of the problem, but it also allows you to develop alternative plans in the event that your complaints cannot be resolved. Without this characteristic, it can be extremely difficult to move forward in your career or achieve a positive work-life balance.

To achieve calm, and simple productivity, create a Zen-like working environment. 10 Steps to a Zen-like Working Environment

Featured photo credit: Adult businessman screaming into a megaphone against a younger businessman talking into a smaller onevia Shutterstock

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