How to manage change effectively

Q My employer has recently announced big changes within our organisation. This news has greatly affected morale at work and many of my colleagues seem to have become caught up in negativity. I am also very disheartened by the proposed changes and find it difficult to stay focused on my day-to-day work. How do I get through this time of uncertainty?

A There are many factors which influence how we cope with change. Based on my experience of working with organisations through change, there are two big factors which impact the most on employees: how the change is managed and communicated by senior management, and how we, as individuals, perceive change. Our perception of change is influenced by our personalities, previous experiences of change, our ability to manage stress and our personal support networks.

We often hear the word ‘resilience’ when we are talking about coping with change or with any life stress. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult times. Resilient people don’t spend too much time dwelling on their mistakes or misfortune; they instead acknowledge the situation, learn from it and move forward in life. Of course, this is easier said than done but the good news is, resilience skills can be learned. According to psychologist Susan Kobasa, there are three main elements of resilience:

  • Challenge Resilient people view difficulties and adversity in life as opportunities for growth. They try to see situations as learning experiences, even if the journey is unpleasant.
  • Commitment Resilient people show commitment to their lives and goals, which gives them many reasons to get out of bed each morning.
  • Personal control Resilient people assess the situations over which they have control. They spend their time and energy focusing on what they can control and therefore, where they can have the most impact on their lives.

This last element of personal control is extremely important. Consider your work colleagues and the negativity you are seeing and feeling at work. Where do you think you and your colleagues have been focusing your/their energy? Are your colleagues openly discussing how bad things are? Do you hear a lot of talk about senior management and how things ‘should’ be different? It doesn’t mean that these perspectives are wrong, but is it helping you to engage in this style of thinking? Remember that negativity breeds negativity; and even generally positive people can end up in a negative cycle. If we spend time stressing about the things we cannot change, it becomes too easy to end up feeling like a victim – this can be very disempowering. The serenity prayer is helpful to keep in mind at times like these to help you re-focus: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

What we tell ourselves can also impact on our resilience. For example, resilient people are more optimistic and they see ‘bad’ or negative events as temporary rather than permanent. They are also good at separating the negative events in their lives and not allowing one situation to affect other areas. Think about the other areas of your life and consider your overall health and self care – ensure you get as much sleep as you need, eat well and get outdoors when you can. Although my advice here is about how you can deal with change, the responsibility is not yours alone. I hope that your organisation also provides support for employees throughout this process. For further inspiration, I recommend a book titled Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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