When referencing ‘change’ in the workplace, it is rarely met with glee.  On the contrary, change in the workplace is often met with deep fear and uncertainty, or, at the very least, skepticism.

Why Is Change So Unwelcome?

For most of us, our jobs sustain us.  Our jobs bring in a paycheck that pays for the basics:  our home, and our food. If our jobs change or go away, we have to find another means to support ourselves and our families.

This is scary.

Stability, security and clarity regarding what the future brings is important to us, and when that is threatened in a workplace, we often react negatively.

Even apart from the necessity of a paycheck, our careers often define a part of our identity, as well as are the places where we have close relationships. 

Think about it:  work is the one place we spend the majority of our time, apart from any other single activity.

Nevertheless, change is inevitable. 

How To Approach Change

Here are the stages, and what you can do about them, as well as a few things NOT to do…

Let’s say you hear about some upcoming changes in the workplace.  You don’t know precisely what’s going to happen, but the rumor mill has started.

Feeling Unsettled

First, there is a little bit of discomfort.  Often, we’re curious if the change is going to affect us.  And even if it doesn’t affect us directly, change at work might affect us indirectly.

Our work life is a place where we appreciate clarity.  If things are constantly changing, it can be difficult.  So the first step is a bit of unease.

Panic (and Other Strong Emotions)

After the first few rumbles, more fear starts to set in, especially if you find out that you will, in fact, be impacted.  You might have a lot of negative emotions, including frustration, and disappointment.  On the other hand, these strong emotions might include excitement, and anticipation, especially if you think the change could be beneficial to you.

Information Gathering

Next, we tend to get moving.  After the initial stages of hearing what others are saying, you want to go out and do some digging for yourself.  This is good, but be careful from where you get your information – is it just gossip, or is it a true “insider’s” knowledge?  Interestingly, sometimes you’ll get insight and gems from both places.  Just take care that you don’t put too much stock in a single person’s interpretation of the change and what it means for YOU.

Step Back and Evaluate

Now that you’ve felt the initial emotional flood (from unease to panic, from anxiety to anticipation), and gathered your information, you need to look at what you’ve got and decide what to do.

Does this change mean the opportunity for you to move up?  If so, you need to decide with whom you need to have a conversation.  Or perhaps your job will be eliminated – so you need to start looking elsewhere (either within your company or without) sooner rather than later.

Decide Your Direction

Take action.  When change is coming, you want to be pro-active and not re-active!  You want to be ahead of the wave, and take the best steps for you and your career.

Avoid Gossiping, Assuming and Bad Mouthing

Although it’s easy to get caught up in criticism of changes that you deem unwise, be careful who you share your opinions with.  News travels fast, and if you are one that overshares your emotions at work, this is NOT the time to do so.

First of all, negativity breeds more negativity.  Although we all need to “unload” from time to time, do that with a close friend or a member of your family that is not at the workplace.  Second, others will remember what you say, and maybe pass it along.  You don’t want to be known as the one who “pooh pooh’d” the next big idea, especially when you were the one up for the promotion (and didn’t even know it!).

As creatures of habit, we humans tend to like stability and calm.  However, we need to learn to identify the stages of change, and then work with them, instead of against them.  How have you reacted to changes at YOUR workplace?

Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website, PowerfulLatinas.com, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.


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