Dealing with change can be difficult. No matter what form the change takes — a merger, a reorganization, a new boss, or a downsizing — change means leaving the known for the unknown. And facing the unknown can be hard.
Dealing with change
The following strategies will help you maintain a basic sense of optimism during times of change:
- Remember that you are not alone. More and more employees are feeling the effects of workplace change. We may not like it, but change is a fact of life in today’s work world. When you learn to adapt to change, you’re able to make the best out of almost any situation.
- Take time to think. It’s difficult to think about how you feel unless you take the time to think. This means quiet time alone, without TV or radio, every day if you can. Some people take a walk after work. Others find it helps to arrive at work earlier than usual and sit quietly in a parked car or quiet common area. Others take their quiet time at home after everyone else is asleep or by getting up earlier than usual, before the rest of the family.
- Acknowledge your reactions. It’s normal to feel negative reactions and not to want the change to happen. During times of change, some people go through an initial period of shock, wondering, “What will I do? How will I manage?” At different times, you may find yourself feeling confused, angry, anxious, or afraid. It’s normal to feel any or all of these emotions. Try to recognize and be honest about your feelings; it can help you work through them and deal with them in positive ways.
- Schedule a time for worrying or complaining. If you are especially frustrated or worried, set aside a short time each day or week to vent your concerns with a co-worker. Or make a daily or weekly entry into a complaint file. Many people find that a scheduled venting time like this frees them to move forward with their work.
- Remember that work isn’t your entire life. One piece of your life may be changing, but others are remaining stable and constant. Your work is very important, but so are your roles as a friend, spouse, and parent. Being involved in community events or serving as a volunteer — as an after-school tutor or in a program for older people, for example — can help you put your work life in perspective. Activities like swimming, bike rides, and other sports can also help you burn some nervous energy that you might otherwise spend worrying about work. If you have family, focus on activities that you enjoy together, like walks in a park, attending school functions, or making things together.
- Allow yourself to feel sad. Most change involves loss. If you and your co-workers are feeling sad because familiar and trusted colleagues have moved to another department or left your company, it’s important to take the time to acknowledge the loss that you feel and not to pretend that you aren’t sad. It can help to mark your reactions in some way before you move on. Sending a letter or e-mail by yourself or with others to a departing co-worker can help, especially if you’re able to express what you’re feeling or what the person means to you. Acknowledging that you’re feeling sad is usually a healthy and helpful reaction to a major change. It’s the beginning of accepting the change and moving on with your life.
- Avoid spending time with consistently negative people. Grumbling and complaining are natural and healthy. And it’s important to share frustrations with co-workers. But too much negativity can affect your morale and is also contagious. So try to steer clear of people who continually engage in negative conversation and gripe sessions. Try to limit your discussion of work problems to one or two trusted co-workers who, like you, are trying to make the best of things.
- Try not to get caught up in rumors. Change can have a big effect on truths, half-truths, and what gets said at work. Management may not have all the answers to questions, and this can leave us feeling in the dark. Sometimes, such as when a company is being sold or acquired, management may be limited in what can be discussed with employees. When things are unclear, people tend to read into the situation and make up stories. Rumors start to spread. If you have heard a rumor or news about the company that worries you, go to your manager or someone reliable who has access to the right information and confirm what’s true and what isn’t. And before spreading a rumor further, ask yourself, “Is there a reason to pass on this information?”
- Try to have a positive attitude. One thing you can control is your attitude. You can decide how you are going to react. You can choose what you will do or not do. You can decide to keep yourself in a positive, optimistic frame of mind. Try to catch yourself if you’re repeatedly thinking or saying things like: “Life isn’t fair,” “This is the worst thing that could happen to me.” Repeating negatives can lead to a downward spiral. Instead, tell yourself that it’s OK to feel upset, that life is a mixture of both happy and sad, that you can handle adversity and do what you need to do.
- Remember how you’ve faced difficult challenges in the past. How did you manage them? What worked for you then? Reminding yourself of your capabilities can help you feel more in control.
- Give yourself time to adapt to change. It may take weeks, or longer, for you to adjust to the changes at work.
During times of change, many people feel a greater sense of stress and overload. Here are some ways to help reduce stress:
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation can reduce your threshold for change, making you more vulnerable to worry and anger. Many people find that trading off TV viewing for even a half an hour of extra sleep significantly changes how they feel the next day. Limiting caffeine can help reduce the body’s reactions to stress and improve sleep quality, too.
- Eat well, take care of yourself, and exercise. Treat yourself the same way you would take care of someone else you care about who’s just gone through a major loss or change. If you’re well nourished and physically strong you’ll have more energy to meet the challenges of change.
- Try to maintain routines at work and at home. It can be easy to let things go when your morale is low, like not doing laundry or answering mail. But letting things go can make you feel even more defeated in the long run, when low energy can make it hard to face a pile of disorganized paperwork. Try not to let yourself get so overwhelmed by work that you forget home, family, and personal responsibilities.
- Develop a relaxation method that works for you. Some people find relaxation exercises help them calm down when they’re feeling especially overwhelmed or anxious. Try taking a deep breath, holding it for a few seconds, slowly letting it out, and repeating it a few times. No matter what your form of relaxation — cooking, reading magazines, listening to your favorite music — make it a consistent part of your life.
- Cut down on other commitments in your life when you are in a period of work overload. A general rule of thumb is that when you take on a new commitment, you should drop an old one.
- Maintain friendships outside of work. Spending time with people whom you like can help keep you relaxed, remind you of your value, and keep workplace issues in perspective.
Seeking support from others can help you feel stronger and better during times of change.
- Build a good support system. Seek out people who are good listeners and problem-solvers. Try to surround yourself with caring people, as well as those who can provide objectivity and offer sound guidance. You might want to get together with other people who’ve been through the same experience to share ideas, contacts, and support. Try to balance being with people and taking time out to be alone. Chances are you’ll need both quiet time to think and reflect, and social time with friends and family who care about you.
- Seek support from your spouse, a friend, or a family member. No matter how much other people care about you, they can’t always understand what you’re going through unless you tell them. Be honest about what you’re feeling. It’s OK to say things like: “This is a hard time for me, but I’m going to do all that I can to get through it.” Don’t be afraid to ask for help: “I really need your support and help.” Or set some limits: “Right now I need to be by myself.”
- Talk with your manager about what the change will mean for you and how it will affect your job. One of the chief reasons we resist change is because we don’t know how it will affect our jobs and our lives. In the absence of information, we become apprehensive and jump to conclusions like, “I’ll never get used to this new job.” The sooner you can find out from your manager how your job will be affected by the change, the less uncertainty you’ll feel and the easier it will be for you to accept the change.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for additional support and training from your manager to keep up with the changes. Even the most capable employees need additional training and help to meet new job demands and learn new systems and procedures.
- Talk with your manager about ways to help you reduce feelings of stress or overload. One of the by-products of a changing workplace is that employees often feel a greater sense of stress and overload. Talking to your manager about your workload and ways to get the work done can help. This isn’t meant to be a complaint session. It’s a time to talk about your workload and the company’s needs and to come up with ways to get the work done.
Preparing for future change
Learning to adapt to change is an essential job skill in today’s workplace.
- Continue to learn. Keep skills current and learn new ones by taking advantage of any training programs your employer offers, including cross-training for other jobs. The more new skills you learn, the more valuable you will be to your employer.
Look for the opportunities change can bring as you move forward. Once you’ve adjusted to the initial change, you’ll be ready to start exploring other job options and activities. Is this the time to try a new career? Go back to school? Relocate? Transfer your skills and use them in a different field? Think of all the possibilities and options you can. As hard as it might be, try to look at this change as an opportunity — to grow, learn, and develop in new ways.
It helps to remember that this uncertainty is usually temporary. It’s possible to develop skills for dealing with change so that you feel better about your work and more in control of your life.