Helping Employees Deal With Change
If you have ever played in the ocean’s waves, you’ve probably learned that remaining flexible and moving with the waves is more effective than trying to fight them — when you try to stand rigid and immovable, you’re more likely to get knocked down, be tossed around, and grow frustrated.
In the same way, being agile and adaptable is a more effective approach for employees in the workplace — that’s because people who adapt easily to change also tend to respond well to organizational shakeups, shifts in strategy, and inevitable market volatility.
Resilience is a mental toughness that helps us become more adaptable, even when our personalities and preferences might normally lead us to resist change. Workplace stress often escalates during periods of transition, and while we can’t change our personalities, we can become more resilient when we learn how to manage those stress-inducing situations rather than allow them to manage us.
As leaders, there are a few workplace needs that may play into an employee’s adaptability, and working to meet these needs can help reduce stress and ease the process of change.
A Desire for Collaboration
Some people are entirely comfortable taking direction — tell them where to be and what needs to be done and they’ll be content to just show up and get to work.
Others prefer a bit more control. They want to be able to influence strategy and be part of the planning process. They need to have a say in what and how things get done to feel at ease. For them, being notified of a change without having been a part of the decision-making process can be stressful.
Of course, not all workplace decisions can be made by committee or through a collaborative process. Sensitive restructurings where some employees are reassigned while others are promoted come to mind.
Whenever possible, however, leaders can help teams reduce the stress around change by inviting employees into the discussion. When workers have a say in the shape a change will take and how it will be implemented, they are more likely to embrace the transition and align with the new plan.
A Need to Know
In times of transition, a lot of leaders operate on a “need to know basis.” They only tell their team precisely what they need to know, when they need to know it, and nothing more.
And for some team members, that is entirely fine — they almost prefer functioning in the dark, with only a faint light illuminating the path forward. Others want the entire field aglow like a Friday night football game in West Texas. They feel stressed when they can’t see downfield to know all the ways a play might unfold.
Imagine your team is relocating to a new floor in the building. You already know Hollie will want to see a full schematic of the new floor plan in advance to know where her cubicle is and who is nearest to her. Linda, on the other hand, will show up Monday morning and be content to discover where she’s sitting when she finds her boxes.
As a leader, take into account that your team members prefer varying degrees of information — some want clarity while others will be more comfortable with ambiguity. Land somewhere in the middle, providing a level of information that feels forthcoming, but that doesn’t reveal details that are still being decided or could contribute to conflict within the team.
Similar to the degree of information individuals want, team members also have preferences for the amount of notice they are given prior to a transition. Those who welcome change, seeing it as an opportunity for growth, are more likely to roll with changes on the fly.
Those who struggle to adapt may need more time to process the potential impact of a change on them personally. Having changes sprung on them could lead to unproductive stress behaviors — worrying, overthinking, complaining, and potentially stirring up other team members.
If possible, leaders should provide fair warning of pending change, announcing plans in a manner that allows employees who prefer advance notice time to adjust to the news.
When we learn to navigate a stressful situation in a constructive and positive way, we don’t only come through the situation in a better position, but we also grow in resiliency. And having bolstered our mental toughness, we will be better able to withstand the next wave that is sure to come.
Change can be hard, and it’s likely your team will have mixed feelings about it. As a leader, the most important things you can do to increase adaptability are to be mindful of individual needs and provide a culture of psychological safety so employees can discuss what they’re feeling.
The Birkman Signature Report can help leaders identify their team members’ needs and preferences in the face of transition so they can better help them respond with resilience – rather than stress.