Coping with Change in the Workplace

The only constant in today’s workplace is change, and often it happens quickly, before employees and management can mentally prepare. Keeping your workplace running effectively means helping employees cope with those changes. Here are five tips that can help.

In today’s business climate companies are forced to implement sweeping changes in an effort to grow and survive. A knowledge-based economy and global transformations require swift adjustments. This environment presents new challenges and demands for everyone, from the board and CEO to the entry-level employee.

Change is and always has been an inevitable part of life. But for most people change and adversity are difficult paths to traverse, especially in our work settings where the challenges may abruptly alter the course of one’s career and lifestyle.

Employees fear losing their jobs, or get transferred to unfamiliar positions. Little control over workplace events triggers increased tension, uncertainty, anger, and other forms of job stress.

Underlying the physical workplace–and exerting a powerful influence on it–is an emotional playing field that I call “the workplace within.”

Effectively managing the workplace within means not fearing or resisting change and challenges, but empowering management and employees with the necessary skills to effectively manage life changes. Strategically preparing managers and employees catalyzes better organizational performance – regardless what changes you might face.

Is this issue too “personal” for the business place? That may be the conventional wisdom. But I would suggest based on years of research and firsthand management experience that the answers to many business performance issues lie more with the individual than the organization.

The interplay among individuals, their responsibilities and the corporate culture drives a business’ viability. Effectively managing the workplace within can help reduce counterproductive behavior, improve the organization’s collaborative thinking, increase cooperation among colleagues, and enhance customer service – even in the midst of change and reorganization. Here are several strategies:

Prepare Managers – Company leadership must assist managers in understanding the emotional landscape of change and provide them with tools to address issues. Who we are dictates how we perceive experiences, how we react to others, and how well we work together—and how we cope with change. Few companies offer managerial training in issues of change, leaving managers ill prepared and a target for blame.

“Name the Game” – I’ve observed firsthand numerous managers whose unexamined emotions have negatively affected whole work groups and even acquisition deals. Make employees aware of how they express their emotions and how their communication, body language, speech and behavior impact the overall group. Admit up front that there may be a temporary increase in pressure or workload impacting employees and that the company is willing to work in making a transition as acceptable as possible.

Communicate Early and Often – Rumors and innuendo, if allowed to propagate randomly, are extremely harmful. Keep everyone updated on the most recent decisions directly or indirectly affecting staff. This will make employees feel that they are a part of the process. With healthy communication, employees are more apt to remain with the company and often develop an even deeper bond during a time of change.

Acknowledge Emotions – An increased level of empathy and understanding is important and must be felt from the top down. People expect life to be easy and when it is not, they need assurances that employers are concerned and will do as much as possible to assist them during unsettling times.

Increase “Emotional Intelligence” Companywide – At the same time, making employees aware of their own feelings is just as important. Without a good grasp and understanding of our feelings, we often manifest anger in counterproductive behavior. Encourage employees to dissipate stress in a productive manner by doing more of the things they enjoy, like exercising, volunteering, spending time with family.

Perhaps most importantly, you will also want to help them understand that they ultimately have control over their lives and that allowing emotions to control decisions can be detrimental. As an investment banker, I once watched a deal unravel because the sellers were so emotional and volatile that the buyers simply lost confidence in their ability to manage the company going forward; they walked away from a deal that made every bit of sense “by the numbers.”

Even with a recovery underway, it’s unlikely that life in business–for organizations and for individuals–is going to get any easier. Change will be continual, confronting us in waves. Negotiating these changes and challenges effectively on the outside will require all of us to be effective managers of that other, hidden workplace–the workplace within.

Ida Covi is the author of ‘Journey of the Night’, many published articles and creator of Synthesis, a program to empower young adults so that they can make daily decisions that have eternal significance. She can be reached at (480)488-6155 

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