• 3/28/2024 9:03:19 AM

Uncertainty of Future and Work Motivation

Barış Onur Örs


Today, uncertainty has almost become a norm. Global economic fluctuations, climate change, technological revolutions, and socio-political changes require individuals and organizations to constantly re-evaluate their plans for the future. Such uncertainties have profound effects on motivations for finding jobs, doing business, establishing and developing enterprises. The dynamics in the business world necessitate understanding how individuals shape their futures and how organizations adapt to this changing environment. In this context, as the Talentra team, we wanted to thoroughly examine the effects of these uncertainties on work motivation. With our "Talentra Work Motivation Survey" conducted between February and March 2024, we aimed to reveal the impacts of uncertainty on business processes, career planning, and motivation levels. The focus of this study was to understand how current and future uncertainties affect individuals' perceptions of work and career. The research also aimed to provide information about coping strategies with these uncertainties and adaptation processes.

The Uncertainty of the Future and the Future of Uncertainty

The future has always been uncertain and will continue to be so. But has it ever been this unpredictable in history? Or, to ask the question from the opposite direction; thanks to our technologies, hasn't the uncertainty of the outside world become more predictable? The fact that these two completely opposite questions are valid at the same time summarizes the character of our era. The future is in a state of uncertainty and unpredictability like never before; however, the technological level our civilization has reached has never been more capable of dealing with this uncertainty. Let's try to elaborate on these two conditions a bit.

Great devastations, wars, social collapses, and similar crises have occurred many times throughout known history. Although some of these were regional or continental, we know that examples like World War II threatened human life worldwide. So much so that we have passed through times when the end of humanity and its environment seemed to hang by a thread. As in this recent example, our civilization has passed through many periods when its future was murky. Each crisis situation, with its internal dynamics, witnessed paradigm shifts that brought us to the present day. So, what is different today?

The systems we have established are now more fragile, and the consequences affect the entire planet, including non-human life and the ecosystem. In a globalized and integrated world, as seen in the pandemic example, we can no longer speak of incidental or regional events. Most importantly, we are now face to face with the reality of the climate crisis; according to many scientists, we may be on the verge of reaching a point of no return. We are unsure if our technology, organizations, and policies can overcome this. In summary, even if we do our best as a civilization, we no longer know what future awaits our species and ecosystem. And the possibilities are slipping through our fingers every day. That's why we are filled with anxiety and denial.

On the other hand, the speed of technology is dizzying, even though the solution to our problems is not solely dependent on it. It is claimed that technology, which creates more problems than it solves, may, for the first time in history, be able to solve more problems than it creates. However, we lack the organizational forms and policies to make this theoretical possibility a reality. The consecutive technological revolutions that fit within a generation have the risk of turning individuals from active subjects into passive recipients.

In such an atmosphere, we wanted to focus on a hot topic that the public, politicians, and the business world turn a blind eye to: Uncertainty!

In the Talentra Work Motivation Survey, which mostly focuses on Turkey but correlates with international data, we first asked 418 participants from different occupational groups and positions, of different ages and genders, the following question:

“Compared to the past decades, do you think the future is much more uncertain/unpredictable now due to global climate change, technological advancements, resource scarcity, increasing risks of wars, humanitarian and economic crises, or other reasons?”

90.9% of the participants responded with “Yes, I think so.”

The results show that a vast majority of the participants have a dominant feeling of uncertainty. At first glance, these results might be argued to be a regional situation specific to Turkey. However, both our literature reviews and the international sample group we tested show that the regional and global perception of uncertainty does not differ much and the results are parallel.

Uncertainty and Work Motivation

As conscious beings, humans seek continuity and meaning from the past to the future, desiring to have a meaningful position within time and space. They wonder about the outcomes of their actions and their impact on the world. This expectation serves as the driving force behind their actions. The quest for meaning becomes even more complex in a world full of uncertainties. Humans are forced to redefine their place, role, and future under changing conditions. This situation, especially in professional life, leads individuals to constantly question their career paths and professional identities. Our capacity for work is tied to our motivation, and uncertainty has significant effects on work motivation.

Work motivation is a critical factor affecting individuals' commitment to their jobs, their performance, and job satisfaction. High levels of motivation are associated with higher productivity, better job outcomes, and stronger employer-employee relationships. On the other hand, a lack of motivation can lead to low performance, high turnover rates, and generally a negative atmosphere in the workplace. The uncertainty of the future means a lack of clear information or control over the upcoming period, which in the business world includes the unpredictability of market trends, technological innovations, or political decisions. These uncertainties can cause employees to worry about their future career paths, job security, and professional development opportunities.

Our research revealed that uncertainty significantly impacts work motivation. A vast majority of participants expressed that uncertainty significantly affects work processes, motivation, and career plans.

When asked, “Does the uncertainty of the future affect your work processes?” 52.4% of participants responded “it somewhat affects,” while 39% said “it greatly affects.” Thus, a total of 92.4% indicated that uncertainty affects their work processes.

Moreover, to the question “How does the uncertainty of the future affect your work motivation?” 44.2% of participants answered “it reduces my motivation and worries me,” highlighting the negative impact of uncertainty on work motivation. Nonetheless, as will be discussed later, a significant portion of participants, 25.2%, answered “Increased threats or opportunities make me more committed to my work,” pointing to another effect of uncertainty.

According to our research findings, in the face of these pronounced effects of uncertainty, we see two distinct attitudes from participants regarding career planning. When asked, “How does uncertainty affect your career plans?” 55.7% of participants said, “I am making more flexible and versatile plans,” while 22.7% stated, “I have started to settle for less in my career.” We can suggest that especially this response might be associated with a decrease in motivation and performance in work life. On the other hand, an undeniable portion of participants, 7.2%, highlighted that uncertainty “creates new opportunities,” thus underscoring another aspect of the theme of uncertainty that other researchers have also identified.

You can access the compilation we previously published on the Talentra Blog about the multifaceted effects of uncertainty here.

The findings of our research show that uncertainties can have not only negative effects on individuals' attitudes towards work but also motivational effects. Some participants mentioned that uncertainty has created new opportunities in their careers or prompted them to make significant changes. As mentioned earlier, more than half have stated that they are making more flexible and multifaceted plans. The current state of uncertainty is a source of intense stress and anxiety that could be associated with decreased performance, while on the other hand, it triggers new job searches or behaviors to improve existing jobs among employees or entrepreneurs. Indeed, at least a quarter of the participants in our study stated that as a result, they have become more committed to their work.

Coping with Uncertainty

In times of uncertainty, the role of organizations and leaders is crucial. Leaders informing their teams through open communication, sharing the future vision, and creating an atmosphere of trust are key to maintaining, even increasing, work motivation. Organizations need to invest in training and development programs to enhance employees' skills, offer flexible working arrangements, and provide planning services to support employees in reaching their career goals.

Businesses create possible future scenarios using tools such as market research, economic analyses, and trend projections and base their planning and strategy development processes on these scenarios. However, this approach faces limitations, especially in rapidly changing markets and situations where unexpected events frequently occur. Since it is impossible to eliminate uncertainty completely, this method can sometimes lead businesses to make misleading and flawed decisions.

Researchers like Simon Bridge and Gudela Grote have suggested alternative ways of coping with uncertainty. Such approaches view uncertainty not as a risk but as an opportunity and aim to benefit from it. For example, Grote argued that uncertainty is not only an externally produced situation but can also be internally generated and managed. Bridge stated that coping with uncertainty is possible through methods like "interaction," "antifragility," and "trial and error," especially in the context of entrepreneurship. These approaches encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to innovate solutions using their current resources and turn uncertainty into an advantage.

The last question we asked participants in our research was: "How does your workplace approach uncertainty?"

The responses to this question were more evenly distributed compared to others. 30.2% of participants described their workplace's approach as "cautious and prudent," while 19.3% marked it as "indifferent." 17.9% said "flexible and adaptive," and 12.3% described it as "innovative and open to taking risks." 20.3% of participants selected "I am not sure."

We think the nearly one-third "cautious and prudent" response rate indicates a stagnation in business processes. One of the main manifestations of the prevailing uncertainty is the hesitancy among entrepreneurs to invest and adapt, or the vulnerability arising from conventional business models. The "indifference" response by about one-fifth is another reflection of the current economic system based on short-term planning. When we consider these two responses together, we see that one in every two businesses is either in a state of cautious stagnation or indifferent unplanning.

Combining this state of indifference expressed in the responses with the "I am not sure" answer, corresponding to another fifth, it might be possible to conclude that nearly half of the businesses are also indifferent to the concerns of employees facing uncertainty.

However, based on responses referring to flexibility, adaptation, and innovation, we can suggest that some businesses are actively endeavoring to cope with uncertainty. These businesses can be assumed to be in the process of developing an active strategy towards uncertainty, acknowledging the situation of uncertainty as researchers like Bridge and Grote have discussed. It is important to remember that all these data primarily rely on the personal opinions of the participants and ultimately on the interpretations of experts. All these assessments aim only to capture a snapshot of the current uncertainty landscape from a certain perspective.

In Conclusion…

Global ecological and economic uncertainties, along with the changing nature of technology, introduce new inequalities in the distribution of capital while also leading to significant losses in worker welfare and rights. Within such a landscape of insecurity, individuals start to settle for less as they drift away from realizing their potential, and work structures encourage them to accept less. On the other hand, radical changes open new doors for solving economic deadlocks and questioning dominant paradigms. While traditional inefficient work processes that leave heavy footprints on nature and individuals are being questioned, new possibilities emerging with new technologies reveal opportunities for a better design, a more sustainable business process socially, environmentally, and economically. However, making new work processes more productive in the short term does not necessarily mean they will be fairer in terms of labor and nature. As long as labor and nature are reduced to production factors whose costs must continually be minimized, short-term productivity will turn into new footprints in the long run. This atmosphere of uncertainty and insecurity, while creating new job opportunities in the short term, leads to entirely different unsustainable situations in the long run.

In today's seemingly endless crisis environment, while cumbersome jobs are being discarded, talent and qualifications become more prominent for workers. It is debated that the business world of the future can better meet the needs of those with sufficient resources to access and use technology, but it may further diminish the satisfaction of these needs for neglected and disadvantaged groups. The work of the future, characterized by features such as uncertainty and interdependence, is emphasized to require more adaptive behaviors.

In such a scenario, social policies gain more importance. In our current atmosphere of uncertainty, significant responsibilities fall on all stakeholders involved in public policies, as well as businesses and organizations. Above all, we need to acknowledge that we are in an exceptional transition period that involves planetary risks by clearly defining the current process. Creating mechanisms where the issue can be discussed within a democratic framework is vital to manage this transition period most fairly. Thus, it may be possible to find social and fair solutions that can minimize the risks for disadvantaged groups and realize the potentials of both individuals and technology during this transformation process. We must at least explore the possibilities of doing so and hold onto hope; because we may not have any other option left.


Bridge, S. M. (2014). The entrepreneurial view of the future: A framework for organizational strategy. Academy of Management Journal, 57(2), 491-515.

Grote, G. (2010). Uncertainty management in new product development: An investigation of antecedent and moderating effects on team performance. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 27(2), 242-257.