How to cope with change in the workplace?

The only constant thing in life is change “Heraclitus”.

Therefore, anyone entering the workforce at any level could expect to face many changes which are a normal part of life. But these changes are not always easy to navigate.

No matter what job or industry you are part of you need to learn how to navigate these experiences. Above all, it is your mindset that will play the major role in succeeding in it.

I am Jaime Miralles, a Mental Health and Wellbeing Psychotherapist Nurse, and I support people navigating change in their personal and professional lives.

What is change in the workplace?

There are many catalysts for changes in the workplace. For example, in 2020 the biggest drive for the change was COVID-19, which initiated a period of uncertainty, rapid changes and a disturbance on all organisational levels. All of this resulted in many businesses changing their focus, expanding and rethinking their working environment and ultimately, changing their employee situation, business platforms, products, and provisions. But day-to-day there are various typical changes in the workplace. For example, getting a new manager, new colleague, a new role / promotion, and new workplace technology. Furthermore, the changes could be:

  • Government legislation, regulations and initiatives such as Brexit.
  • Growth opportunities, especially new markets.
  • Economic downturns and challenging trading conditions.
  • Funding cuts.
  • Changes in strategic objectives.
  • Technological developments.
  • Customer and/or supplier issues.

How are employees and employers affected by change in the workplace?

People are always at the centre of these many changes in the workplace. Faced with many emotional stages, change can affect everyone differently, but it is a process. Some will go through all the stages, and some will cope better than others. But most importantly, it is beneficial to recognize the change and embrace it. The stages include shock, denial, threat, anger, resistance, depression, self-doubt, acceptance, exploration, understanding and integration. It is crucial to understand how to deal with changes at work as these are often an emotional process. Therefore, emotional awareness by those who lead and manage change is vital to anticipate and plan for all the reactions.

Change also brings lack of control, and the sense of not being in control, or not having fully control on a situation, will certainly impact on emotional responses.

How to manage and support others through change in the workplace?

It is important that those who lead and manage change are properly trained and supported. Although any changes might be unique, there are some common themes which, if you are aware of, can aid the process of change be the best chance of success.

Firstly, it is vital to acknowledge employee’s feelings – having a safe space where these feelings can be quickly addressed, allows employees to express their concerns, ask questions and provide feedback.

Secondly, resistance to change can be expected. Even if the change can bring all the positive improvements and solutions, it still can be very troubling for employees. Moving to unknown can elevate anxiety and stress. The advice is to allow each individua affected by the change move in their pace and address all the barriers as they come. A personal and supportive dialogue between a resistant employee and their manager is the most effective way to get to the root cause of any resistance. In this brings the need to have an established pattern of open communication, which will reduce the sense of lack of control or “not knowing” and reduce the impact on emotions. Basically, employees need to be given enough information about what is being planned, the rational, what is happening and when.

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