Article: How to manage change

2020 has been a different and challenging year for many of us. It is important to be aware of how change affects us and know what is important to focus on in order to achieve good change processes and increase our own capacity for change and building resilience.

What does change do to us?

Research shows that organizational changes can lead to increased job demands, less control over the work situation and decreased focus on health and working environment. In addition, changes in themselves can have health consequences when they are perceived as a threat. For example, organizational changes that do not meet individual expectations can affect the health. For many, the experience of job insecurity can be associated with various health problems such as poor sleep, worry and anxiety.

Some argue that most people do not welcome major changes in their life, while others believe that we are adaptable and responsive to change. History and science have shown us that humans have the ability and capacity to master change. When a company communicates that there will be changes in the organization, the employees will react in different ways. Some see opportunities and positive challenges in change, while others fear it and become worried. Small changes can have major consequences for some people, while large changes involve little reaction in others.

How to handle change and restructuring (from a business perspective)?

Communication: Several researchers have pointed out how important it is to have good communication in a restructuring process. By good communication we mean both being able to provide information, but also that there is a dialogue between the management and the employees. It is important that the company has a clear vision stating the company’s future direction and priorities, and that these are communicated to the employees. Regular information from the management is important. The uncertainty decreases when employees understand what is happening and why. Employees should have the opportunity to ask questions or make suggestions, and thus have the opportunity to influence the process. In other words, communication should run both ways.

Involvement: Research shows that early involvement of employees in the change process is important for safeguarding the employees’ health. If possible, ensure that employees and managers have the opportunity to:

  • Influence how the changes are implemented.
  • Contribute with ideas for how the business should look after the changes.

When employees are able to get involved in the process, they will more likely develop an ownership to the organizational change process. This is also a good way to utilize the knowledge and competence the  employees have attained while being employed in the company.

Social support: Good social support at work can help employees cope better with organizational change. Lack of social support can affect both well-being and sick leave. Colleagues, management and the organization as a whole are good sources of social support. Researchers therefore suggest that management should focus on strengthening social support during a reorganization. One way of doing this can be to give employees the opportunity to talk openly about the changes happening for example in a department meeting.

How to cope with change as an individual?

Companies that succeed with change involve the employees and create both enthusiasm and commitment. When this happens, the employees tolerate change well, they believe in their own competence and have the perspective that change will also mean new opportunities. The ability to manage change depends, among other things, on previous experiences. Through experiencing successful restructuring processes, it is possible to develop an increased capacity for change.

In psychology, resilience is defined as the process of healthy adaptation in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or other sources of stress. Although adverse events and changes can be painful and difficult, they do not have to determine the outcome of your life. There are many aspects of your life that you can control. Becoming more resilient not only helps you through difficult times, it also gives you the opportunity for personal growth.

How to increase your capacity for change: by building mental muscles (resilience)

It takes time to increase your resilience to change. Increasing resilience is done by focusing on four core components – social connection, well-being, purpose and healthy mental thinking. By working on these four areas, you can build mental muscles and increase your own resilience.

Social connection: Humans are social creatures in need of relationships and positive connections with others. We are not created to live or thrive alone. We need to be a part of a social group and community. Focus on finding dependable and empathetic people who can acknowledge and confirm your experiences/feelings, and spend time developing these relationships. Prioritize having contact with people who care about you, both family and friends. In addition to one-on-one relationships, many people find that being active in different groups, such as training groups or other local organizations, can provide good social support.

Wellness: How do you take care of yourself? Self-care is important because stress is as much a physical phenomenon as it is emotional. By maintaining a healthy diet, getting sufficient sleep and regular exercise, you improve your own strength in terms of adapting to stress, as well as reducing emotions such as anxiety or depression. By practicing self-care (diet, sleep and exercise) you can help prevent health problems when changes in the workplace occur that you have no control over and/or may feel frustrated by.

Purpose: What is perceived as meaningful is different for different people. By finding purpose in life, meaning is created. For example, by doing a favor for a neighbor or by helping and supporting a good friend you garner a sense of purpose, foster self-worth and connection. Many people feel that work tasks are an important source of purpose. When we make active choices in our own lives, for example by reaching out other people or setting ourselves goals that we can work to achieve, a sense of purpose can be created.

Healthy mindset: Some people worry excessively in uncertain times. To think about and plan for the future is good, but too much pondering is not associated with good mental health. Try to take a break from pondering, and perhaps postpone worrying until tomorrow. Try to set thing into perspective and ask yourself the question: “what thoughts do I need to have to avoid becoming anxious?” You can choose which attitude you have towards many things in life, and which attitude you choose has implications for how you think and feel in everyday life. Give yourself the same great advice you’re giving to others you care about!