Ongoing changes in the world are causing a high level of stress, and the need to adapt to that stress. The pandemic dramatically changed the workplace landscape. Lockdowns and self-isolation have affected how people across the world are connected and working together. Employees had to learn to cope with these changes quickly. Teleworking, balancing work and life, dealing with technological challenges, and online communication with colleagues are examples of such changes.

Adaptability is one of thirty-five competencies in Workitect’s Competency Dictionary. With good reason, Adaptability has been appearing more frequently in job competency models of jobs at all levels that our firm and our clients have recently developed. Many organizations have also recognized the need to provide employees with the opportunity to improve their adaptability and resilience to the changes everyone is experiencing. The developmental actions and resources described below are taken from Workitect’s Competency Development Guide which includes similar guidance for thirty-four additional competencies.

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The Psychology of Lockdown: Adaptability – Managing Your State of Mind

Workplace effects of Covid-19 on employees   Frontiers

The psychological implications of COVID-19 on employee job insecurity and its consequences: The mitigating role of organization adaptive practices.  American Psychological Association

Ongoing Pandemic Takes Toll on Workers’ Mental Health  SHRM


What is Adaptability?      

It is the ability to keep functioning effectively when under pressure and/or experiencing rapidly changing or uncertain conditions, maintaining self-control in the face of hostility or provocation.

Behavioral Indicators (observable behaviors that indicate the presence of this competency) 

  1. Remains calm under stress
  2. Can effectively handle several problems or tasks at once
  3. Controls his/her response when criticized, attacked or provoked
  4. Maintains a sense of humor under difficult circumstances
  5. Manages own behavior to prevent or reduce feelings of stress
  6. Quickly adjusts and constructively reacts to unforeseen circumstances and setbacks
  7. Modifies behavior to remain effective in different organizations and cultures
Competency Development Guide

The Competency Development Guide is the 5th Edition of an easy-to-use, 280-page, 8.5″ x 11″ spiral bound handbook
featuring actionable tips and resources for the development of 35 competencies.


Adaptability is an essential competency in any job that involves high levels of stress — because of a need to meet continual deadlines, to make decisions under pressure, or to deal frequently with upset and angry people.

In recent years many more jobs involve high levels of stress, because of increased pressure for results, threats of job loss, and an organizational environment involving continual change. Thus Adaptability is becoming more important for many more people.


To develop this competency, there are a variety of steps you can take to condition your body to better handle stress. First, it is critically important to maintain a balance between your work and the rest of your life, by allowing time to enjoy leisure activities and time with family and friends. Regular exercise several times a week is also beneficial. If you have been feeling unusually stressed, a program to learn and practice regular meditation may be helpful.

In addition to these general life style changes, there are some specific job-related skills (e.g., time management and dealing with upset people) that you can develop through books or courses.


  • Practice remaining calm in stressful situations. Try to project a sense that you are calm and in control of the situation.
  • Use a personal information management system (either a paper-based system such as Day Timers or a software program such as ECCO Professional or Lotus Organizer) to manage multiple projects. Learn to use the tickler or alarm system to remind you of upcoming meetings and deadlines.
  • Begin a program of regular exercise, such as walking or jogging during the lunch hour.
  • Read The Relaxation Response, by Herbert Benson, and try regularly meditating every day.
  • Encourage coworkers to practice stress management activities.
  • Find and implement ways to make work tasks more fun.


Ask a coworker to observe you over a one-week period and tell you when you are exhibiting signs of stress.

Ask coworkers to tell you what behaviors you exhibit that either manifest or transmit stress and what behaviors you exhibit that reflect good control of stress.


Talk to someone who is effective in adaptability. Ask what this person does to prevent stress and what he/she does to cope with highly stressful situations. Ask for descriptions of how the person handled specific, stressful situations.


If you are coaching someone who is trying to develop this competency, you can:

  • Model effective stress management.
  • Make yourself available as a resource to discuss how to manage stressful situations.


By April 19, I will interview Joe Stourdy and ask him how he manages stress.

By May 20, I will complete a stress management course and begin applying what I have learned.

By June 15, I will read Coping with Difficult People, by Robert Bramson, and begin applying what I have learned in my interactions with Yma Weiner.



3 Ways to Improve Your Adaptability in the Post COVID-19 World, CareerPivot., 2021

Adaptability: The Art of Winning in an Age of Uncertainty, by Max McKeown. 228 pages. Kogan Page, 2012.

Adapt: Why success always starts with failure, by Tim Harford, New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

Dealing with Difficult People: 24 lessons for Bringing Out the Best in Everyone
, by Dr. Rick Brinkman & Dr. Rick Kirschner. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2003.

Dot Calm: The Search for Sanity in a Wired World, by Debra A. Dinnocenzo & Richard B. Swegan. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2001.

Emotional Freedom: Techniques for dealing with emotional and physical distress, by Garry A. Flint. Vernon, BC, Canada: NeoSolTerric Enterprises, 2001.

Managing Workplace Chaos: Workplace Solutions for Managing Information, Paper, Time, and Stress, by Patricia J. Hutchings. New York, NY: AMACOM, 2002.

Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, by Noa Davenport, Ruth D. Schwartz, Gail P. Elliott, & Sabra Vidali. Ames, IA: Civil Society Pub, 2002.

Reclaiming the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout, by Dr. Steven Berglas. New York, NY: Random House Inc., 2001.

Stressed is Desserts Spelled Backwards, by Brian Luke Seaward. Duluth, MN: Whole Person Associates, Inc., 2007.

The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting On What Matters, by Peter Block. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, In., 2003.

The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits, by Richard A. Swenson. Menasha, WI: Navpress, 2002.

The Relaxation Response, by Herbert Benson & Miriam Clipper. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2000.

The Stress Effect: Why Smart Leaders Make Dumb Decisions–And What to Do About It, by Henry Thompson. 336 pages. Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Undress Your Stress: 30 Curiously Fun Ways to Take Off Tension, by Lois B. Levy. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2005.

Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, by Spencer Johnson. 96 pages. G. P. Putnam’s Sons,1998.


LinkedIn Learning. 50+ online courses and videos..

Building Resilience and Leadership in the Context of Crisis & Telework. One-hour on demand. Center for Creative Leadership. Tel. 336-288-7210.

Corporate Resilience Training. Onsite programs. TRACOM. Tel. 800-221-2321.

How to Manage Time, Meetings and Stress. AMA.


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