Many companies today are under intense economic pressure. Reorganizations, takeovers, mergers, downsizings, joint ventures, and other major changes are extremely common, as companies try to grow and survive.
These changes present new challenges and demands for everyone, from the C.E.O to the telephone receptionist. All members of the organization must therefore learn to cope with change or suffer consequences.
When change is not handled well, additional loss of jobs can occur. In addition, demoralization of the work force; increased worker turnover; decreased cooperation and teamwork; and increased levels of stress, anxiety, absenteeism, illness, and mistakes can follow.
The purpose of this Special Report is to highlight eighteen principles that are useful for coping with organizational change. While all eighteen of these principles may not apply to your situation, please read through the entire list to find those that do appeal to you.
1. Be prepared for Change: Change is–and always has been–an inevitable part of life. In today’s business climate, however, the pace of change has definitely increased.
Since most people normally hate to go through change, you can easily understand how today’s pace of change can be stressful for many employees.
Most of us prefer established routines. We like to feel secure, stable, and familiar with our responsibilities. The one thing we hate most is uncertainty–uncertainty about our jobs, our future, our status in the organization, the role we are expected to play, and what other changes might be coming down the pike.
Unfortunately, most businesses are forced to make changes today just to survive. Global transformations require speedy adjustments. Local and national economic forces must be recognized and responded to promptly. New sources of competition and new technologies suddenly appear out of nowhere.
Like successful professional athletic teams, most businesses today must continually make changes to remain competitive.
Thus, instead of fearing change, resisting it, or hoping it won’t ever happen to you, it’s much better to prepare yourself mentally for the inevitable changes that are likely to occur.
Start today by imagining how you could cope with sudden, massive change. Think about likely scenarios and then brainstorm, on your own or with others, about how you might best respond.
Assume that the “rug could get pulled from beneath you” at any time. Then, if this happens, you won’t be caught off guard. You’ll already be psychologically and emotionally ready.
If the changes never come, you’ll still be better off. Having prepared yourself in advance will enable you to feel much more confident and secure in your normal day- to-day activities.
2. Express sadness, loss, anxiety about the future: When change does occur, don’t pretend it isn’t painful. Yes, change can bring new opportunities for personal growth, accomplishment, and organizational success. But it also causes feelings of sadness, loss, and anxiety about the future. These are normal human responses.
When people get laid off or fired, everybody hurts. We feel for our friends and coworkers. We empathize with their pain, anger, and sadness. In fact, we may have our own similar feelings to deal with, as new demands and responsibilities suddenly come our way.
When people get promoted, when organizational relationships change, or when our own job responsibilities become altered, there is a normal reaction of sadness, anxiety, and loss.
One of the worst things you can do when this happens is to pretend everything is “just fine.” Even if you agree intellectually that the changes are necessary, emotionally you still may have some painful, negative reactions to deal with.
Unfortunately, today’s business culture has little regard for honest human emotions. Expressing or even acknowledging negative feelings is considered “inappropriate.” Workers are expected to be upbeat, positive, and “team players” all the time. While this is a laudable goal, there should also be room for people to express heart-felt negativity as well.
Truly enlightened business leaders know this. During times of significant change, they actively solicit negative feelings from their workers. They know that denying these feelings or trying to suppress their expression will only make things worse.
3. Watch out for unrealistic expectations: Unrealistic expectations can be a tremendous source of stress and unnecessary suffering. Unfortunately, when organizations undergo downsizings, restructurings, or other major changes, a whole host of unhealthy, unreasonable expectations frequently arise.
Upper management may expect, for example, that increased productivity will quickly occur, even though the work force has been seriously reduced. Or, management may expect they can impose any changes they want, without consider-ing how employees feel about them.
Employees, on the other hand, might expect that management should always act in a caring and compassionate manner. They might expect better communication from company leaders; more sensitivity to their feelings and needs; or more respect for their health, well-being, and family responsibilities.
While all of these things may be important for good employer-employee relationships, to expect them to be forthcoming from management (without encouragement from the rank-and-file) is to invite disappointment, resentment, and low morale.
4. Don’t let yourself or others be abused: During times of change, it is common to let yourself and others be easily abused. When workers have been fired or laid off, there is a natural tendency to wonder if you might be next. This climate of fear might prevent you from speaking up forcefully when excessive or unreasonable demands are placed upon you. Anxiety quickly spreads throughout the entire workforce, making it even more difficult to obtain support for questioning unreasonable company policies.
But sometimes, questioning policies is healthy and appropriate. If you feel that you or fellow workers are being unfairly abused, try to tactfully broach this subject with your immediate superiors. Try to do this in a way that isn’t offensive or that doesn’t make you appear to be lazy, uncooperative, or unwilling to do your share. Yes, there is always a risk when you make such a move. You could easily get fired or be branded as a troublemaker. But if you truly have your company’s interests at heart, you may be able to negotiate a more fair and humane work environment for all concerned.
After all, if the remaining workforce is angry and demoralized, how could this possibly be good for business?
5. Acknowledge any increased pressure, demands or workloads: One of the biggest mistakes most companies make when they downsize or restructure is they fail to acknowledge the increased pressures, demands, and workloads that temporarily fall upon remaining employees.
Sometimes, retained workers are asked to do the work of two or three individuals with little appreciation or acknowledgement. Their salaries are not increased commensurately or perhaps even at all. The resources made available to them are often very lean or nonexistent. While at the very same time, the demands on their productivity might be significantly increased!
All of this could occur without even a word of thanks or gratitude from the company leaders who ultimately benefit from such an arrangement.
Whether your company realizes how short-sighted this failure of recognition is, you don’t have to compound this mistake. Be sure to regularly acknowledge to yourself and to your coworkers if your responsibilities have been substantially increased. While it may take time for you to successfully readjust, always strive to acknowledge whatever is true for you at the moment.
Discuss your feelings with your family, friends, and loved ones. Consider discussing them with your superiors, if you think this would be appropriate. Just don’t make the mistake of suppressing your feelings, denying them, or pretending they aren’t really there.
6. Protect your leisure time: When companies undergo change, there is usually plenty of extra work to be done. Suddenly, people begin working through their lunch times. They can’t find time to play golf, take a vacation, or even travel to their local fitness club. They begin to come home later and later in the evening, and they often find themselves back in the office on weekends and holidays.
This is a very dangerous pattern to fall into. It can easily grow into a generally accepted mentality. Remember, just because everybody else in your organization starts acting insane, you don’t have to go along.
Fight against this common trend by protecting your leisure time, as best you can. Realize that during times of change and increased stress, it’s actually more important to get away from your job and have some time each day for yourself. That way, you’ll be refreshed, energetic, and much more productive than all those people who spend all their time on the job.
7. Don’t ignore your family: In addition to maintaining time for yourself, it’s also important not to forget your family. Spouses, children, and other family members can be excellent sources of emotional support when times are tough at work. But they won’t be in a very loving or supportive mood, if all you do is neglect them in favor of your job.
Sure work often takes priority, but you family should be elevated to an equal priority as well. If you put too much emphasis on just one of these areas, and neglect the other, you’re eventually going to find yourself in trouble.
8. Don’t turn to drugs or other chemical coping strategies: During times of increased stress, people often look for rapid and easy means of symptom relief. Headaches, muscle aches, nervousness, irritability, and sleep disturbances can all be very disturbing.
Please avoid the temptation to use alcohol, drugs, or other chemical coping methods to obtain relief from these common symptoms. Also watch out for tendencies to overeat, skip meals, or drastically alter your diet in response to increased pressures or an expanded work load.
While most of these coping strategies can make you feel better in the short run, they each have serious (sometimes even fatal) long-term consequences.
It’s always better to use natural, non-chemical coping methods. Try to exercise more, communicate more, and set time aside each day to relax. Don’t deprive your body of sleep or proper nutrition. You’ll need both of these to cope with the many new demands that you might face.
If your symptoms don’t respond to these natural measures, or if you feel yourself turning toward alcohol, drugs, or other harmful behaviors, DON’T GIVE IN. Pick up the phone and make an appointment with your doctor or other trusted health professional. Be totally honest about your problems and listen carefully to what they recommend. If you don’t have a family doctor, get one. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to taking the easy way out.
9. Remain upbeat and positive: Even though you may be feeling stressed, angry, or scared about your future, you still need to remain upbeat and positive in most things you do. When organiza-tions change, the climate should remain positive, even though individual members of the organization may be having all sorts of negative or uncertain feelings.
I know this sounds contradictory, but it’s not. Acknowledging any negative feelings you might be harboring actually improves your ability to remain upbeat and optimistic! When you’re willing to look at all sides of your company’s reorganization or change, your ability to notice the positives, as well as the negatives, improves. Then you can choose to focus on the positives, rather than dwell on the negatives.
Please be clear about this very important point. I am not saying you should “pretend” you are upbeat when you are really feeling down. What I am saying is that if you force yourself to tell the whole truth, you’ll see both the positive and negative aspects of any major change. This expanded perspective alone will almost always help you feel more positive and upbeat, without having to deny your feelings to the contrary.
You can then use your powers as a creative human being to focus on just the positives (and help others in your organization to do the same) because you know from past experiences that this is a wise thing to do.
If a few key people in each organization or department take on this role as a positive emotional leader, it will quickly spread to other employees as well. If nobody steps forward to remind people of the truth, it’s easy for company employees to remain stuck in a chronic state of negativity.
10. Get Creative: One of the best ways to cope with organizational change is to “rev up” your natural powers for creative intervention.
Most problems are amenable to creative, innovative solutions. The only thing that usually keeps these solutions from arising is our own internal barriers and self- imposed restrictions.
Creative problem solving always involves risks. Proposing a new idea invites criticism from others. What if the idea fails? What if business losses occur? What if things end up worse than before?
You’ve got to be willing to accept such risks if you’re going to be free to think creatively. Trust yourself and others around you to recognize any really horrible idea before it gets implemented. Then give yourself permission to swing out and think creatively–allowing any and all ideas to come to mind. Many companies have regular “brainstorming” sessions for just this purpose. During times of reorganization and change, these creative sessions are very important. Time should be set aside to make them a common occurrence.
11. Expand your value to the company: When times get tough and people are being laid off, remaining workers become very fearful. Instead of worrying or losing sleep over the possibility you might be let go, why don’t you go into action and stack the deck in your favor.
How? Very simple. Just make yourself incredibly valuable to your company. Offer to take charge of some problem or project that isn’t working. Contribute creative ideas to appropriate people in the chain of command. Become very interested in the problems your boss and company owners are facing, and see how you can help them out. Stop worrying about yourself and your future and get busy helping your company grow and prosper.
What’s the worst that can happen? You might still might lose your job, but look at the bright side. You can take all that energy, drive, commitment, and creativity to your next place of employment.
Who wouldn’t be delighted to find an employee like that? It’s a win-win situation for you, no matter what happens.
NOTE: Give serious thought to using this strategy even if times aren’t tough and your company isn’t downsizing. Then, when the first wave of employee cut backs occurs, hopefully you won’t be among those let go.
12. Celebrate your accomplishments: In the business world today, most people tend to focus primarily on problems, mistakes, and obstacles to future company goals. We rarely take time to celebrate our accomplishments.
Sure, there’s the Christmas party in December and the annual company picnic in the summer. But do we “throw a party” every time a new client is landed, a new deal is secured, or we reach one of our interim team or departmental goals?
Do we take time to celebrate the tremendous effort everyone is putting in? You’d be surprised how much of a difference this can make. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or hold a gala event. You can have small, spontaneous celebrations any time you choose.
If you are creative, you can find all sorts of ways to acknowledge and uplift your co-workers. You could even throw a “party” every once in a while to celebrate and acknowledge your boss!
13. Seek appropriate compensation or risk share arrangements: This is a delicate subject, but it’s an important one to consider. When companies downsize or reorganize, the overall payroll, including costs of employee benefits and other intangibles, are drastically reduced. At the same time, pressures on the remaining workers are significantly increased.
It is very tempting for company leaders to keep all these financial savings for themselves or for the future needs of the company. In so doing, however, they may be perceived as taking unfair advantage of their employees.
Employees know when they are being financially mistreated. They know they are doing the work of two or three people, yet they are only being paid as one. They know this and they tend to resent it.
If you feel this way, try to negotiate a more favorable system of remuneration for yourself and other employees. See if you can come up with a creative formula to earn more money for the increased work you are doing. Consider some type of bonus arrangement, or perhaps a salary increases that gets activated if the temporary manpower shortage lasts beyond a reasonable period of time. Or consider lobbying for a company-wide incentive program, so that if everybody works hard to turn things around, they share financially in the success of the entire company.
While it may be risky to propose such ideas, you should at least consider doing so.
14. Improve lines of communication: In general, the more “crazy” and chaotic your work situation becomes, the more you need good lines of communication. In fact, much of this “craziness” is directly caused by ineffective communication.
Everyone must communicate more actively when organizations undergo change. This includes the boss, the CEO, and even the Board of Directors. It also includes middle managers, clerical staff, and other agents and employees.
More meetings, not fewer, will probably be needed. When employees and managers are nervous, worried, and pressured, they have increased information needs. They deserve to know what’s really going on and what is being planned for the future. If you don’t supply these answers to them, they will make up ones on their own. Often, they will imagine the worst, when in fact, there may be very good reasons for hope and optimism.
Evaluate your organization’s communications needs and game plan. Talk to employees to see what communication needs they have. Find out what forms of communication they would find most helpful. Above all, realize how important and necessary good communication is in coping with the stress of major organizational change. But make sure communications are honest, sincere, respectful, and open- ended.
15. Become more efficient: In addition to increasing your value to the company, you’ll need to find ways to become more efficient. As organizations change and evolve over time, improvements in efficiency almost always coincide.
After all, if you’re going to take a leadership role, if you’re going to handle bigger responsibilities, and if, at the same time, you’re going to look for added ways to increase your value to your company, you are going to have to get more efficient or suffer a nervous breakdown.
Fortunately, efficiency can be learned. There’s an almost endless capacity for human beings to improve upon the way they do things. Whoever said “necessity is the mother of invention” spoke the truth. When you have so much work to do that you can’t handle it anymore by using your present strategies and routines, you will quickly become an innovator.
16. Learn from the experiences of others: Two very common mistakes people make when undergoing organizational change are: 1) they try to cope on their own; and 2) they fail to benefit from the experiences of others.
With the rapid pace of organizational change today, thousands of people have faced circumstances similar to yours. Some of your friends, relatives, and other acquaintances have probably struggled with similar difficulties.
Talk to these experienced people. Pick their brains. Find out what other people in similar companies are doing to deal with downsizings or expansions. Read books and articles. Listen to audiotapes on coping with organizational change. Attend lectures and workshops given by prominent people locally or around the country.
Get involved. Get creative. Learn from others’ mistakes and successful solutions. Don’t just sit there and suffer quietly. Reach out for support and you will eventually find it.
17. Rise to the challenge: Instead of viewing your particular situation as a problem, see if you can view it as an exciting challenge instead. Remember, change is inevitable, but being stressed by change is not. It all depends on how you look at change and how you choose to respond to it.
In every organization undergoing change, some people rise to the challenge, while others don’t and get left behind. Which group do you want to be in? Think about it seriously. You’ve got the power and ability to end up in either one.
18. Never become complacent: Once you’ve survived and successfully adjusted to a major organizational change, avoid the trap of becoming complacent. Future changes will probably occur, and you should be prepared for them–emotionally, physically, and also financially.
Keep developing your skills and enhancing your value to the company. Learn to do as many jobs as you can. Take on a leadership role in having your company be successful. Take pride in helping others below you. And always let your superiors know you are ready and willing to help out whenever the need might arise.
If you try to follow most of these 18 steps and still lose your job, so be it. You will have gained many useful skills and derived much personal satisfaction in the process. Your next employer will certainly be grateful to add someone like you to their team.
By Morton C. Orman, M.D. Copyright © 1995-2010 M.C. Orman, MD, FLP