stressed at work

5 Proven Ways to Cope with Change in the Workplace

October 9, 2019

Change is part of life. 

We all know this, yet most of us strongly resist change. I’m sure it’s not just me who thinks that everything seems to be changing even at a faster rate these days. Everything is transient and businesses are not spared from the topsy-turvy effect change has on our daily lives. 

Contrary to popular belief, change isn’t always announced with a megaphone. Sure, change presents itself in the form of a business restructure. But it’s also the ever advancing pace of technology or the new approaches millennials bring to the workplace. 

So the question on everybody’s mind is: How do I remain sane in a world that seems to throw a curveball every 5 minutes? 

Not all change is bad

There’s a lot ado around change management in corporate environments. This is very helpful from a manager perspective. But how can you as an individual do your share and get a handle on change? If change is part of our daily existence, how can we make sure that we’re going to make it through standing tall with a smile on our face? 

Try as we might, we’re not going to avoid change. So we might as well make peace with it. But do we? 

A first step is to acknowledge that not all change is bad. Change can be very welcome (the purchase of your first house, business growth, final approval of permit you’ve long been waiting for). But even if change is positive, it doesn’t mean it can’t be challenging (relocation, a new job).   

Unfortunately, not all change has a silver lining. Maybe the worst part is that we often feel that change isn’t within our control. Change hands us a good amount of uncertainty. And we all know that that is a guaranteed cause of stress.  

Don’t get stuck in what is gone

Unrelated to whether change gets tossed in your lap with your consent or not, it’s your attitude towards it that’s the biggest decider of how it will affect your life. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Neither will escape. The only way forward is facing the change head on. Easier said than done? We agree. 

Research shows that most of us respond in a way that is a blend of both response types. However, it’s taking control that has the best long-term benefits. Acknowledging change and the fact that it is stressful is a good start. Taking matters in your own hands will win the game long-term. The best attitude is:

This lies in front of me; Here’s the plan. 

Coping with change is a process

But that doesn’t mean you won’t feel upset or confused. Turns out that we react to change in four fluid stages. The similarities with the stages of grief are striking. Maybe we are grieving what we had? Just a thought….

1.    Uncertainty, disbelieve and shock

Response: Seek reliable information so you get the full scope of what’s going on. Taking stock makes you look at the situation from a distance. 

2.    Anger, arguing, blaming and other strong emotions

Response: Allow these feelings. It’s ok to feel scared or angry. But at the same time keep these strong feelings in tabs. Be conscious about what you share with the wide world and what you keep to yourself and your close support group. There is only a certain amount of strong emotion sharing you will be forgiven for in the long term. 

3.    Slowly making peace with the new situation

Response: It’s important to note that this stage is not about denial. It’s about a focus shift from what is lost to what is a new reality. Give yourself time to adjust. Communicate, a support network is golden. 

4.    Moving on

How can being aware of these stages be helpful? It’s about insight. Being aware of what you’re going through is half the problem solved. It gives you permission to feel the way you are feeling… and eventually move on. 

The limbic system causing havoc

But here’s what I have found the most helpful thought around handling change. 

I remember enrolling for a 6 month business course several years ago. On the first day, I realized I was standing out in the group like a sore thumb. I seriously thought about quitting. Until my husband asked whether I felt unsafe. I realized I didn’t. I was only feeling really out of my comfort zone. It put everything in perspective. I finished the course.  And ended up learning a lot. Not only about the business background I was searching, but maybe more importantly about people that may be very different to me and about how to handle change. 

See…it all has to do with the Limbic system. The Limbic System is the part of our brain that is highly involved in behavior but also in emotions, particularly in the context of survival. The well-known fight-or-flight response is the limbic system in action. 

You guessed it: the limbic system doesn’t like change. It responds to uncertainty with a sudden and uncontrolled fear response.  This response was lifesaving to a caveman; It’s a nuisance in the workplace.  As a result, it makes total sense to be aware of the Limbic system, take the fear out of the change and you’ll cope a lot better. 

Nobody’s perfect

On a final note, we have this to say; nobody is perfect. So let yourself off the hook. Making mistakes is part of being human. You will never be a 100% spot on, not even if you try your very, very best. And that’s ok. The quicker you are fine with that thought, the quicker you’ll be ready to sink your teeth in making peace with the new situation you are facing. 

Onwards and upwards.