How Should We Respond to Workplace Change?

One Writer

We define ourselves in these moments. by Free-Photos from Pixabay

In the workplace, changes come quickly and suddenly, often with little explanation. That Monday morning meeting is suddenly not so routine and employees peel out into the hallways to shake their heads and complain. This workplace venting, though understandable, is unproductive.

Change is inevitable. We all know this, so why is it so hard for us to see it coming? To accept it when it arrives? To quickly adapt and master it with our skillset and our grit?

In short, because change is not usually our choice. We feel a loss of power. We feel our voices are unheard. But, those that truly master their careers know that this is the time to rise above the petty complaints, re-strategize, and get to work.

Adapting to changes in the workplace

Recently there have been changes at my workplace that are worrisome. I look around the new adjustments with utter confusion, questioning the boardroom discussions that led to these changes and wonder — what on earth were they thinking? This will never work. They are working against everything I am trying to do here. Now what?

I have 2 choices in this situation

  • Complain, gripe, struggle against the changes like a bug caught in a spider web — and we all know how that turns out for the bug!
  • Adjust. Adapt. Get busy! There are strategic planning and new goals to set and pursue. Adaptation of daily scheduling and tasks. Personal feelings on the matter set aside, it is time to work within the new structure and find ways to rise up — when others are still spinning in place like those mice in “Who Moved My Cheese.”

Clearly, one of these options sets you apart from the competition (your co-workers or other potential employees that could replace you) and prepares you for greatness.

Rising above the chatter

When changes occur, we are derailed. We had it all planned out, our sticky notes in place, our agenda for the day, then we open the company website and the whole thing looks different. Navigating is now a challenge. Now we don’t like the way things look anymore. Now we wonder how our clients will find us or whether anyone will spend enough time on the site to find us. We shake our heads and groan.

All of this is unfruitful and wastes time that could better be spent working toward our goals and seeking out new paths to success. If you simply must be heard on the matter, take notes on helpful and constructive feedback on the changes should there be a way to anonymously provide feedback.

The more time we spend ranting about it, the less time we have to find those tips and tricks for making this work for us. So, it is different? Figure it out, find the good, and maximize it. Go straight to the clients — we have a brand new look! Here’s what you can expect from me. Empathize and reassure your clients that regardless of what changes occur, they can count on you.

As tempting as it may be, stay out of the circles of complainers that spin in place. Getting caught up in that will only make you dizzy and keep you in an unhealthy headspace. Keep any venting brief and remember that what comes out of your mouth or goes into a heated email cannot be retracted. Get some space and take a walk.

Kelly Cutrone summed it up beautifully in her boldly-worded book, empowering women for unapologetic success in the workplace, If You Have to Cry Go Outside:

“We’ve already established that life is going to kick you in your ass sometimes and that there’s no way to avoid that, but if you get up and keep doing what you do, giving your best self each time, you eventually achieve not only success but that great psychic coup of detachment.” — Kelly Cutrone

Sometimes workplace changes make no sense to us

But were we at that decision-making table? Chances are, we were not.

We usually aren’t privy to the data that drove those decisions. We don’t get “behind the scenes” info that would explain it more thoroughly. Speculation can leave you exhausted and frustrated.

Accept that the higher-ups made their decisions for whatever reasons and your position is to impress with your ability to navigate, adapt, and slay. Yes, slay. You’ve been brought to a challenge; now show them what you are really made of.

Change can bring about the opportunity to display new skills

When the path is clear, each step is a confident one.

But, when changes come along and make the path “clear as mud,” it can be more difficult to move forward confidently in the “direction of our dreams” as Thoreau, American naturalist, poet, and essayist would have advised us in such a tumultuous situation. But find our steps, we must do.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.” ― Henry David Thoreau

It is in this tentative navigation that we have the opportunity to plow a new path and rise to meet the occasion of setting ourselves apart from others with our attitude, our adaptability, and an impressive display of skills they may not have had the chance to see under the “old” way.

Workplace changes challenge your sense of control

Psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross created a model called the Kübler-Ross Change Curve™, a model that is widely used in business applications, defines our response to change much like the stages of grief. The Change Curve defines phases we go through when faced with major changes in our lives:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Frustration
  • Experiment
  • Decision
  • Integration

The trick is to learn to spend as little time as possible in the early stages of response so that you can move on quickly, seek workable solutions, and apply them. When changes occur that are out of your hands, it can challenge your sense of control and stability, which affects some people more than others depending on personality traits, past experiences, mental health, and emotional maturity.

I think back to a time early in my career when I was working my first “real job” fresh out of college. I was older, in my thirties, but every prior job I’d had was in a very different industry and now I had the dress pants, the desk, and the nice office window overlooking the front parking lot of our office building. I felt I’d finally landed that job that would take me places.

But I was a mess. I thought I knew how to get my job done and do it well, and I did to some degree, but what I didn’t know at the time is that my overly emotional reaction to anything outside of my control marked me as unpredictable and perhaps unprofessional. I took everything too personally. I expected too much too soon. And I should have learned more from the more seasoned employees around me.

That 3 1/2 year gig ended one day with me being escorted to my car with all my “personal effects” and my plant in a cardboard box and told to leave the property. In my effort to do such a “great job” I had driven myself into a place of workplace stress that made my work more difficult to do — I made a critical error on some paperwork and was fired. In short, I let my job stress affect my mental health entirely too much by taking everything too personal. It wasn’t about me. A company was making decisions and I was there to do a job. That simple. (Now, I know better.)

When changes press your mental health and feelings of security, it can cause a backlash response that is counterproductive. If you can learn to identify these self-preservation responses and address them as such, you can keep your work presence professional and your responses respectable, progressive, and productive.

Finding the ‘sweet spot’ for adaptation

Your personal purpose, goals, and workplace objectives may not always align with what you see going on around you at your place of work. This does not mean you cannot continue to pursue your own objectives while making adjustments that suit the needs of your employer.

The trick, and one that successful people employ, is to find where these two (often conflicting) paradigms meet and insert yourself there. Find the commonalities and maximize those in your daily tasks.

Workplace changes and redirections do not have to derail you from your own personal career path. If you find this happening so often that you are unable to adapt, perhaps it is time to reconsider your employment with this particular company. Like a failing marriage on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” it is sometimes necessary to part ways. Try to make this decision with a clear head and with your emotions set aside.

Positivity isn’t just a slogan word; it’s a roadmap to success

If you make it a habit to find the positive in every situation, you can plow ahead with determination. You’ll be able to shake off those complaints, steer clear of the whiners and “Negative Nancy” individuals, and reassess your daily tasks, adhere to new rules and adjustments, and do it with grace.

Grace under pressure is a very desirable trait for any employee and of successful people.

Consider this quote from in an article entitled “The Most Successful People Learn How to Focus on the Positive”:

Cognitive convergence can be powerfully positive. Firestarters are able to make associations between similar situations and use lessons learned from one sphere of their lives to inform actions and thoughts in seemingly unrelated situations. They look for patterns of success, and then they pounce on situations that have proven to be generators of that success. Then they replicate that success. — Kathy Palokoff, Paul Eder and Raoul Davis, Authors of “Firestarters: How Innovators, Instigators, and Initiators Can Inspire You to Ignite Your Own Life

Author’s note: More on Cognitive convergence theory here.

Make adaptation your superpower

If you do not recalculate or change your methods of operation, then you align yourself with those who stumble, fall behind, and become their own worst enemy. Show yourself how adaptable you can be by moving toward the positive and finding your new space in a growing and changing workplace environment.

One celebrity face we all know and love that has made a career out of adaptability and making opportunities out of challenge is Leonardo DeCaprio, raised in humble means by a single mom, a German immigrant. His career began early but got off to a rocky start as he was kicked off the set of Romper Room at the age of 5 for being too rambunctious. His break came with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, a brave and unconventional role that clearly demonstrated his acting abilities. Other roles such as the iconic “Jack” in the 1997 blockbuster hit the Titanic were to follow.

What stands out about DeCaprio is his ability to adapt to a variety of roles and in addition create a world-renowned charity organization in a controversial and politically hot topic of climate change. His Leonardo DeCaprio Foundation travels the globe in various activism efforts to make a difference for our planet. While many celebrities struggle to balance their personal objectives with garnering more acting roles, DeCaprio continues to secure daring roles such as in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, 2013. DeCaprio demonstrates an ability to mold himself into a variety of roles yet master his own personal agendas when he is off the set. Adaptability is certainly a superpower for the accomplished actor.

Those that do this well will find a greater workplace satisfaction, set themselves apart, and define their own successes.

In summation

  • Get a clear understanding of the changes and expectations of you.
  • Apply them objectively — the outcome to be observed by upper management who may or may not change things all over again.
  • Move forward with grace, positivity, and confidence.

How we respond to the changes around us are defining moments; opportunities to show our adaptability. These are moments that stretch us, teach us, and help us to grow both individually and in the workplace. We, as capable and inspired individuals, can set the example for others that challenges all to rise up and meet their best selves. What will you choose to do today?

Books mentioned in this article (not affiliate links, just helpful ones)

Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, MD
If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You by Kelly Cutrone

Handling Disappointment

Waldo Emerson Quotes to Lift Your Work Day

Thank you for reading.

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