What if

The what-if spiral

“What if she doesn’t come back to work?

“What if she complaints?”

“What if he raises a grievance?”

“What if he doesn’t agree?”

The what-if spiral occurs when we ask questions that are driven by uncertainty, worry, anxiety, frustration and, worst-case scenarios. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

What if she doesn’t return?

Charlene has a member of staff called Suzanne on long-term sick leave. A long term sickness review meeting is due to take place a few days before Suzanne’s current fit note ends. Charlene is unsure if Suzanne is going to return. Will she need to have a return to work meeting with Charlene or – should she keep the long-term sickness review meeting in her diary? Instead of considering the most obvious solution, Charlene starts on the what-if spiral:

  • What if she doesn’t return to work?
  • What happens if she doesn’t submit another fit note in time?
  • Do I need to stop her pay?
  • What if I can’t cover her shifts?

Finally, Charlene speaks with HR Advisor who suggest that she call Suzette to ask her if she is fit to return to work. Charlene telephones Suzette who informs her that she has just returned from her GP and, she is signed off from work for a further four weeks.

What if I don’t get the job?

Bennett has been preparing for promotion for eighteen months. He has been working with a coach and updated his skills and, qualifications. He is ready to begin the application process when doubts set in.

  • What if I’m not good enough?
  • What if I’m not ready?
  • What if other people have more experience than me?

The questions swirl in Bennett’s head day after day. He share his concerns with his coach, who replie, “Review all of the actions you have taken to date and, you will answer all of your fears.”

Bennett did as his coach asked. He realised that he had allowed doubts to overshadow his preparations and achievements. Bennett applied for senior roles and, was successful on his third attempt.

Not a question of if but, when

What-if scenarios present themselves to us daily, the next time it happens, consider the facts calmly. More often, there’s a logical next step; however, small it may appear to be. Seek wise counsel if you need to and, refuse to succumb to the what-if scenario – it’s not your portion.

© Dawn H Jones

Hello, I’m Dawn. I am an HR consultant, coach and blogger. I hope you found this blog useful if you’d like to receive regular content, we’d love to have you – press the subscribe button.


Please note that this post does not constitute specific HR or employment law advice if you require help please contact an appropriately qualified professional or drop me an email  – dawn@hopeplace.co.uk


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