Change can come sweeping in unexpectedly or it can sneak up on us. It comes as a result of painful economic realities or as the result of opportunity and increased demand for services. This article offers four strategies individuals can use to cope with change and stress in the workplace.
One of the things we know about change is that, the pain and stress of it is often most felt in the transition from being one thing to becoming another; from doing things the old way to doing things the new way. The "in–between," the place where you have left behind the old way of being but can't really see the way forward or the new way of being, produces the worst of the pain. And that is exactly where most of us as individuals and our organizations are at this moment — floundering in the ambiguity of the in–between; not able to clearly see the way forward.
People have widely varying reactions to change. Some people deal with it more easily than others, whether through optimism, an innate resiliency, or because they enjoy challenge and novelty, they can move easily from one way to another. But the vast majority of people find change to be difficult, especially when it is forced upon them without their input. The body and mind respond to unwanted changes in a number of ways. You may find yourself irritable, sad, resentful, feeling disorganized or overwhelmed, or fearful. Economic considerations, changes in job status, being asked to produce more with less support, new responsibilities, new reporting structures, realignments, and reorganizations are all common causes of anxiety.
We all need strategies to help us cope successfully and thrive during these turbulent times. The broad strategies we recommend below; Take Action, Cultivate Optimism, Create a Plan, and Connect to Others, may help you cope on a personal level with your individual change.
TAKE ACTION: Much of the stress brought about by change comes from feeling that things are out of our control. Focus on what you can control and then take action. The following positive actions can help you cope.
- Develop a network. Always keep in contact with your managers and fellow employees from former jobs. Your network will be a valuable resource in times of change. Common wisdom suggests building your network before you need it. Join a social networking site like LinkedIn or Facebook, set up a professional profile and invite your network to connect with you.
- Learn new skills. Learn a new computer program. Take a class in communication skills. Learn to make presentations. Ongoing training will add skills to your professional tool kit and make you feel less vulnerable and more competent.
- Ask questions. Who can you talk to if a situation is getting more difficult to cope with? How can you get to know a new boss or coworker? What ideas can you present to your organization that will help with the change? What can you do to help your organization or boss and at the same time make yourself more valuable to it?
- Exercise. Yes, every self–help article in the world includes this piece of advice, but also many scientific research studies suggests that exercise reduces stress, improves creativity, builds resiliency, serves as a distraction, boosts endorphins, and generally makes you a sharper thinker. Take a walk with your dog, dig in the garden, get on a bike, or get a bucket of balls and practice your golf swing, what do you have to lose?
CULTIVATE OPTIMISM: Price Pritchett says in his book Hard Optimism that research shows optimists get paid more, are healthier, win more elections, live longer, and are better at dealing with uncertainty and change. He also says optimism can be learned. "It is not just positive thinking but rather 'non–negative thinking' which happens when we change how we deal with our negative thoughts and feelings." Challenge your mind set — manage the way you explain the situation to yourself. Reframe your situation; view it as an exciting opportunity rather than as an insurmountable obstacle. When adversity hits, our innate response is to focus sharply on the difficulties and downside. You need to shift your focus away from what's troubling, and intensely search for what is potentially good and the potential opportunities in the situation.
CREATE A 5 YEAR PERSONAL STRATEGIC PLAN. Take the long view and begin a steady progress toward your goals. Follow these steps and answer these questions to create your plan. Identify your core competencies and signature strengths. Now look at your weaknesses (tip: get some help from people who know you and whose perspective you value). What are the opportunities in your current organization? In another organization? What is your 5 year vision? What are your core values? What are your 3 top goals for the next 5 years? What actions will you need to take for each of these goals? In what order or time frame? How will you measure success or progress? What are your contingency plans if things go wrong?
CONNECT TO OTHERS. Don't ignore family and friends because you are so busy trying to deal with change at work. Now more than at any other time you will need to turn to your support network of friends and family. Communicate to them what is going on at work. Find someone who will just listen to your concerns and offer a positive perspective. However, avoid the people who are negative thinkers; refuse to participate in a chorus of negative conversations if the only thing you will hear is whining, complaining and moaning about the situation.
About the Author: Leslie Bonner is a Senior Consultant at Dewey & Kaye, a McCrory and McDowell Company. She has 25 years of experience in organizational, skill and leadership development. She is an expert in facilitating change brought on by organizational restructuring and growth and can be reached at email@example.com.