Adaptability in the Workplace

It’s safe to say your employees, including your leaders, are coping with uncertainty and frequent change, so adaptability in the workplace has taken on new importance. Without the soft skills enabling adapting to change in the workplace, employees are likely to experience chronic stress, and your management will struggle to earn the trust of their employees. Adaptability is the ability to be flexible and respond most effectively to working conditions, but it’s a nuanced skill because it means adapting when things go right or wrong.  

What Is Adaptability in the Workplace? 

Employees are stressed! The American Institute of Stress found the leading causes of stress are workload (46%), people issues (28%), juggling work and personal lives (20%), and lack of job security (6%). Job stress has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic because so many changes occurred at once. Research has shown that job stress is associated with increased serious health issues, including heart attacks and hypertension. Adaptability plays a big role in lowering job stress because people embrace change as an opportunity.

#Adaptability at work is the ability to be flexible and respond most effectively to working conditions. It's a nuanced skill - because it means adapting when things go right OR wrong.  #workplaceadaptability #crisismanagement

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Adaptability is one of those concepts that can be defined in numerous ways. It could be said it means having the skills to adjust to changes and challenges in the workplace and find solutions. It is defined as a process of evolving with the circumstances, an enormous challenge for leaders who strive to be personally adaptable and work to help their staff members develop the skill of adapting to change

The challenge is that “organizational change” covers a lot of territory. It means adapting to changing roles as the circumstances require, being willing to respond and adjust to particular situations in a way that best fits current events, and being creative in problem-solving in adverse situations. The adaptable leader is able to modify behavior as needed, which is a true skill. Changing behavior does not come naturally to many people, which is why adaptability is considered a skill that can be developed.

The Importance of Being Adaptable 

Your leaders capable of adapting to change in the workplace can thrive even during periods of unrelenting change or even turmoil. Adaptable leaders have skills that include: 

  • Adjusts the management style to meet workforce needs 
  • Adapts to external changes impacting the organization 
  • Accepts the need to change as a positive event 
  • Remains optimistic 
  • Able to revise plans as needed 
  • Learns new skills, technologies, processes, and procedures as needed 
  • Considers workforce concerns and challenges 
  • Strong and effective communication skills 
  • Ability to maintain an open mind  

 Adaptable leaders have a high level of emotional intelligence, excellent interpersonal skills, high-level problem-solving skills, teamwork and collaboration skills, and creative thinking skills. Some people rely on their past experience to inform their responses, but only relying on past experience stifles creativity and adaptability. It is reminiscent of the expression, “We’ve always done it this way!” even if “this way” is not the best way in an era of rapid and frequent change. When faced with unusual or unplanned circumstances, the adaptable leader is flexible and recognizes that past solutions may not be applicable today. 

Adaptable leaders have skills that include strong communication skills, optimism, ability to revise plans, and maintaining an open mind. #adaptable #adaptability #leadershipskills #leadershipdevelopment

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adaptability at work

Following the Adaptable Leader

One of the key characteristics of an adaptable workforce is employees having adaptable leaders. If your managers and supervisors are often in a crisis or panic mode, their employees will follow suit. If your leaders are inflexible, resistant to change, have difficulty adapting plans to smooth the way for employees, or ignore the concerns of their employees, low employee engagement results, which in turn lowers productivity. 

Your employees need adaptable leaders as role models who demonstrate what adaptability means from day to day. Workforce adaptability:  

  • Increases employee productivity 
  • Increases business innovation through creative problem-solving 
  • Frees up management time as employees are self-motivated to adapt 
  • Enables employees to showcase career-enhancing leadership skills and analytical skills 
  • Promotes collaboration in the workforce 
  • Reduces employee stress and discontent 
  • Increases employee engagement  

How to Achieve Adaptability 

Developing any skill takes training and practice. The foundation of adaptability in the workplace begins with leadership training in a variety of areas. 

Adaptability also means being willing to learn from others. Leaders learn from their peers and their employees, and employees learn from their leaders and each other. They are willing to ask for suggestions and inquire as to how people approach their jobs and achieve success. 

One of the main characteristics of an adaptable employee is staying positive no matter what is occurring. Staying positive doesn’t mean being unrealistic. It means being able to step back, view the situation from a learning and objective perspective, and reframing a response. Mistakes are made, but mistakes are also embraced as learning opportunities.

Staying #positive doesn’t mean being unrealistic. It means being able to step back, view the situation from a learning and objective perspective, and reframe a response. #adaptable #adaptability #crisiscommunication

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Frontline Supervisors

Leadership adaptability is not just for executives and mid-level managers. Supervisors also need adaptability, yet they are often overlooked when it comes to leadership training. Frontline supervisors directly impact employee engagement, and high employee engagement is an element of workforce adaptability. Various estimates have found that frontline leaders manage over 80 percent of the workforce

These are the people who are: 

  • Talking to customers 
  • Negotiating with suppliers 
  • Directing staff performance 
  • Implementing business strategies
  • Motivating the workforce 
  • Leading a multigenerational and diverse workforce 
  • Manage the remote workforce 

With the uncertain, volatile, and complex settings businesses are dealing with today, frontline supervisors need an adaptable leadership mindset as much as managers at higher levels.

Adaptability means the ability to lead self as a resilient adapter. The managers and supervisors need the capability to coach employees and provide feedback while also putting strategy into action. They make strategic decisions based on their ability to interpret and manage the current challenges.

Adaptability Examples in the Workplace 

The University of Bradford in West Yorkshire has a statement on its website that succinctly provides adaptability examples in the workforce. “Could you do three different jobs in as many years? Could you travel around the country on your own, working from a laptop? Could you fly out to Brussels to explain policy to our European Partners? A Fast Streamer never knows what might appear on their desk. You need to be able to deal with the unexpected and that which is beyond your experience.” 

Following are some adaptability examples in the workplace. 

  • Handling changing workloads or work responsibilities in response to changing circumstances 
  • Maintaining composure even when stressed 
  • Learning new skills  
  • Continuously learning from others 
  • Asking for employee feedback and using the input to develop creative solutions 
  • Working with a variety of team members  
  • Embracing every challenge as an opportunity to innovate 
  • Accepting new roles and responsibilities with enthusiasm 

The COVID-19 pandemic provides one of the most recent adaptability examples in the workplace. Employees had to suddenly work remotely, and their supervisors and managers had to learn to manage remote employees and help them stay productive. Employees had a lot of concerns about the future. 

workplace adaptability

McKinsey addressed the need for leaders and their employees to develop their “digital, cognitive, social and emotional, and adaptability and resilience skills” in order to thrive after COVID-19. McKinsey gives adaptability examples in the workplace in each area.  

  • Learning to operate in a fully digital environment – The director of quality management must learn the tech skills to collect, analyze and monitor production data as the manufacturing plant’s production lines are automated. 
  • Develop cognitive skills for innovation – An increase in remote work requires managers to adapt. For example, procurement professionals need to help the company rethink the supply chain and production, requiring skills like problem-solving, creativity, and innovation. 
  • Strengthen social and emotional skills – Leaders must adapt to growing client relationships and support employees working remotely, so they need advanced communication and interpersonal skills. For example, a retail bank client advisor has to cultivate social and emotional skills to develop remote relationships.  
  • Build adaptability and resilience to thrive during and after COVID-19 – Employees need support to build self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-reliance. They must develop the ability to manage time, boundaries, and mental wellness. The example given is a cashier in a supermarket needs adaptability and resilience skills to become a customer service representative when the job is automated.

Adaptability Throughout the Workforce

An essential element needed to develop adaptability in the workforce is hard and soft skills training. Your leaders and their staff must be equipped with the right skills in order to be adaptable. For your leaders to feel free to problem solve and express their adaptability and be role models for their employees, there must be positive employee relationsProjections leadership development resources and employee communication tools offer a clear path to developing adaptability in the workforce.  

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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