July 2015 – Coping with Sudden Changes
July 2015 – Coping with Sudden Changes
In the past 2 weeks, we’ve seen horrific violence in Charleston, South Carolina, seen forgiveness and outpouring of support for the families, seen two historic US Supreme Court decisions, and heard our president sing live on TV.
We’ve seen Facebook and the Internet turn into a sea of rainbows and spontaneous parades filled with rainbows.
We’ve seen flags go up and flags go down.
We’ve seen shock, dismay and anger at the Supreme Court decisions, and virulent outpouring of messages declaring that our country has been destroyed.
We’ve also seen some mature and emotional discussions about how to deal with very beloved historic symbols that have been used to justify hatred and violence.
It is true that many things have shifted in ways that may have been unexpected or may not have been expected this soon.
How do we deal with those changes for ourselves and in our workplace?
How do we set a good example for others to follow if we are not sure what we believe or what we feel ourselves about the changes?
As good managers, executives and leaders, our job is to set an example. To do that, we have to recognize that people deal with change in different ways:
As leaders, we need to have compassion for where each person is in their ability to deal with change and help them adjust in a way that allows them to deal with it in their own way. We need to recognize where we are ourselves in the change process.
As with any sudden or major corporate change, societal changes can cause havoc in the workplace. People don’t know what is expected of them or how to deal with new events. They seek guidance in many ways – from leaders, from co-workers, from family and from friends. They often seek to express their thoughts and feelings.
With the Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality last week, many business and government workplaces will be re-evaluating how those decisions affect how they do business. Rules may have to change. Policies and Procedures may have to change. Computer systems may have to change. Attitudes may have to change.
Those things don’t happen overnight. Thoughtful discussions between affected parties will facilitate the process of change and help people adapt to the new realities.
Some people will be unable to concentrate on their work due to their anxiety about the changes. As leaders, our challenge is to provide ways for staff to feel comfortable that they will be heard and their needs can be accommodated.
Some people will want to cheer at the changes and use their feelings of superiority or as "winners" to berate others. As leaders, we need to recognize and stop that type of behavior. Beating others over the head with biased views does not help anyone.
There may be more gossip and water-cooler activity as people try to make sense of the changes and how the changes will affect their job or their life. Sensitive managers may want to provide an open forum for people in small groups to discuss their concerns just as they would with any corporate change.
Staff need to be reminded that the world has not come to an end because of a major change or even a couple major changes. Life will go on, albeit with changes. The business will go on, albeit with changes.
Leaders can help by recognizing that many people will go through the well-known 5 stages of grief developed by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
The 5 steps have been adapted to fit major changes rather than death:
In the case of corporate or major societal changes, the stages of grief relate to the death of the "old way" and adjustment to the "new way" rather than a physical illness.
Look around your workplace. Can you recognize where people are in their reactions to recent changes? Do you know where you are?
The English motto Keep Calm and Carry On may help some people. By recognizing that a great many things in life have NOT changed, we can help people see that there is security in knowing they still have a job, still work in the same place, still have the same co-workers and that many other things around them have not changed.
As leaders, recognizing that people go through a variety of emotions as they cope with sudden changes, we can better help ourselves and our staff to recognize that this new change is not the end of the world. It is one more step in our evolution as a country, as a business and as a human race. We have survived a lot of things. We will survive this also.
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Page updated: October 16, 2023
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