How to Overcome Common Examples of Workplace Adversity

Everyone goes through periods of adversity at work — it’s just a part of life in the business world. But if you want to move up the career ladder, learning how to overcome difficult challenges will accelerate your path to success. 

In today’s post, I’m going to talk about all the different ways workplace adversity can test your professional resilience, and strategies you can use to turn a career setback into your own personal success story.

Resilience is Essential to Career Advancement

Ever wonder why the most successful business leaders have so many inspiring stories to share? Well, it’s not because their career journey was a bed of roses.

While years of work experience certainly helps, it’s their strength in overcoming adversity and ability to bounce back from hard times that truly enriches their tales of triumph.

Bottom line, if you have your sights set on moving up the career ladder, it’s essential you learn how to respond to professional setbacks and difficult situations.

And this starts by viewing work challenges as an opportunity to grow and develop new skills. And yes, I know first-hand this is much easier said than done. 

Adversity is an Opportunity for Professional Growth

Just like everyone who works in the corporate world, I had all sorts of interesting challenges thrown my way while climbing the career ladder and making my way to the c-suite.

You know, the usual stuff like missing out on promotions, dealing with difficult bosses, and surviving toxic work environments. Then there’s the whole adventure of being a quiet introvert in a world that tends to favor extroverts.

And truth be told, I often struggled when faced with challenges like these.

My initial response wasn’t usually the best, and at times I let negative thoughts and feelings of stress get the best of me (more on that in a minute).

But you know what? Over time, learning how to overcome adverse situations like these made me stronger. Because in work, just like in life, adversity is an opportunity for you to become better!

What is Workplace Adversity All About?

Before we jump into how to succeed when faced with significant challenges, let’s take a quick minute to first establish what workplace adversity is all about — and how it can impact you personally and professionally.

What is the definition of adversity in the workplace?

Adversity in the workplace can be defined as a state of serious difficulty and hardship. Simply put, it’s about struggling to achieve career success.

There are many different types of adversity in the workplace

Just like in your personal life, there are many different types of adversity in your professional life too. Let’s dive into common ways adversity can show up and test your professional resilience:

Examples of workplace adversity

1. Career Setbacks – such as not getting the job you wanted and being passed over for promotions.

2. Stressful Situations – this can include workplace conflict with coworkers or dealing with a difficult boss.

3. Negative Feedback – such as enduring ongoing criticism or being placed on a performance improvement plan.

4. Financial Adversity – this can include coping with the aftermath of market downturns that often lead to layoffs and being asked to do more with less resources.

5. Organizational Change – such as suddenly working on a new team with a new boss, or even getting demoted during corporate restructuring.  

6. Unrealistic Deliverables – this entails things like constant pressure to manage heavy workloads and deal with demanding timelines.

7. Social Adversity – this can include being excluded, isolated or unsupported by your coworkers, or struggling to make new connections when starting a new job.

8. Emotional Adversity – dealing with serious issues like gaslighting, workplace bullying, and toxic work environments.

Impacts of adversity on your personal well-being

If you don’t handle tough situations at work, they can really mess with your mental health and overall happiness.

Work-related stress can affect your personal relationships, physical health, and literally make you sick – it’s linked to 70% of visits to the doctor!

For me, there were several times when work-related stressors manifested into nausea-inducing migraines – and always at the worst possible moments.

Impacts of adversity on your professional journey

Here’s the thing, if you don’t learn how to effectively respond to workplace challenges, you’re not going make the most of your professional potential, let alone have a successful career.

But when you figure out how to push through those tough times, you’ll gain a treasure trove of useful lessons that will motivate and inspire you in the years to come – making you even more resilient and stronger in the face of adversity.

Plus, you’ll have even more personal anecdotes to share next time you’re interviewing for a new position. When they ask you, “tell me about how you handled a difficult situation.” you can proudly share how you navigated through your biggest challenges.

So, how can you turn a career setback into your next success story? Well, let me start by sharing a personal example of what not to do in response to a career setback…

Choosing to “Wait and See” is Not a Strategy for Success

As I shared earlier, my response to workplace adversity wasn’t always ideal. And here’s an example of a time when I let my feelings of disappointment get the best of me 

Back when I was a middle manager, I watched two of my coworkers get promoted while I got passed over. I would like to say I found my inner strength in the face of adversity, but sadly, this wasn’t the case. Instead, I just felt sorry for myself while stuck in a career rut.  

But you know what made me feel even worse? Getting passed over again the following year. That was on me because I didn’t do anything to change my situation. I was just waiting around and hoping next year would be better. 

But as a wise colleague once reminded me, hope isn’t a strategy. Eventually, I learned that when what you’re doing isn’t working, it’s high time to stop and do something else!

Practical Ways to Overcome Workplace Adversity and Achieve Success

1. Get the right mindset

The biggest lesson I learned from overcoming workplace challenges is this:

Your mindset – your outlook, attitude, and beliefs – plays a massive role in your success. If you believe you can figure things out, you’re already 90% there. 

But if you feel stuck and doubt your ability to succeed, or blame others for your misfortune, it’s going to be tough to move forward. 

A little trick I often used to get my mindset right when faced with work hurdles was to remind myself that someday, this challenging situation will make a great comeback story! 

2. Avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy

It’s crucial to recognize that your perceptions of workplace obstacles can shape your reality, potentially leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me explain…

You’ve probably come across coworkers who always blame someone else when things go wrong, right? Well, when they think they’re being held back by external forces, they often don’t take action to change their situation. They just stay stuck, and that makes their negative beliefs even more real over time.

So, how do you shift from doubts to a positive mindset at work? Boosting your confidence is a great start.

3. Build up your confidence

Building confidence is essential when facing challenges. Take a moment to write down and reflect on your past achievements and successes.

Remind yourself of the obstacles you’ve overcome and the goals you’ve achieved. Encourage yourself with positive self-talk to reinforce your belief in your abilities.

Remember that you’ve tackled challenges before and emerged stronger. With confidence in yourself, you can tackle whatever comes your way.

4. Don’t rush your next career move

Encountering adverse situations at work can stir up intense emotions, especially when it comes to personality clashes and coworker conflict. 

Be careful not to allow feelings of frustration and disappointment cloud your thinking. You don’t want to respond too fast to work challenges and make a career move you might regret.

Now is a time to be thoughtful and strategic about making your next career move.

5. Carefully assess your situation

The faster you can move past the poor me reaction, and into the now what response the better off you will be. 

Take your difficult situation as a chance to reflect and figure out a plan to reach your career goals. Start by getting really clear about the hurdle you’re facing and dig deeper to understand why it’s happening.

Let’s say you didn’t get that promotion. Now, why do you think that is? Maybe there are some skills you need to work on to move up. Or maybe you’re just dealing with a boss who wants to keep you in your current spot.

Depending on what’s going on, your next steps will vary.

6. Consider asking for help

Not all work challenges are alike. Some you can figure out on your own, but sometimes you might need help from others.

If you’re stuck and can’t come up with a plan, try reaching out to a trusted friend or even seek out professional help, like a certified coach for support. 

Sometimes a fresh perspective can be exactly what you need to find a way forward. 

7. Know when enough is enough

While sticking around at your current job and pushing through tough situations can lead to some pretty satisfying success stories, there are also times when it’s just better to shape your success story somewhere new.

For example, if you’re dealing with a toxic work environment, go work for a better company. I worked for a company where the culture just wasn’t for me. And you know what? I quit and went somewhere that made me happier.

A fresh start could be just what you need to supercharge your career.

8. Make yourself more valuable

Here’s the deal: deciding to move on from your current situation for new opportunities can often make you even more valuable—and maybe even get wooed back by your old employer down the line, with a bigger and better role waiting for you.

In fact, two of my past employers (Avnet and Intel) are currently led by executives who followed this exact path.

These leaders dedicated much of their careers to one company, then ventured out and gained experience elsewhere, only to make triumphant comebacks to their initial companies, this time as CEOs.

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Workplace Adversity: A Source of Inspiration

I saved the best for last — the coolest thing about turning work adversity into your own success story is how empowering it feels. 

It boosts your confidence and skills, showing yourself that you’ve got what it takes to reach your goals and motivating you to aim even higher next time.

Bottomline, don’t dwell in despair over workplace adversity. Don’t allow yourself to become a long-suffering employee who’s endured one too many career setbacks. Instead, adopt a growth mindset to blast past roadblocks and forge your own path to advancement.

Turn a career setback into a professional success story that will keep motivating and inspiring you and others for years to come.


About Author

As a former CMO who started her career as an admin assistant, Alison writes about climbing the corporate ladder to achieve financial freedom.

You can read more about her story here.



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