Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Feeling Angry and Frustrated When Change Happens is Natural

By our very nature, we human beings don’t like change. Children as young as 2-years-old will pitch a screaming hissy fit when the furniture at home is moved. Teens struggle to cope with the new world of high school or college. Even adults have a hard time saying goodbye to the familiar – especially when it has to do with work.

Work for adults consumes a lot of time. Many of us spend 12 to14 hours a day at work, so when things get turned topsy-turvey, we’re not always pleased with the results. In fact, our behavior may closely resemble a toddler’s hissy fit.

Except quieter.

We sit at work, fuming that our company is being downsized and peers are losing their jobs. We’re angry that we will have to move to another facility in another state in order to keep a job. We’re totally ticked that we will have to learn a new system.

But that’s change.

At first you may deny what is happening, and you put up some resistance, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Why? Because it shows that you're ready to do something, instead of just sitting around in a numb complacency.

Now begins the grieving process. But for many companies, acknowledging that employees are unhappy with change is the last thing desired. And that is why many workers have trouble moving on. Because if companies don’t recognize it -- the need for employees to talk about how much they hate what is happening -- then they cannot learn to deal with it. It is often the emotional piece that everyone misses.

Bosses need to understand that it is a natural reaction for people to be furious and frustrated when work patterns change. Humans are creatures of habit, and a lot of people have not yet learned how to become more flexible. People can learn to be very resilient, but they also need a chance to grieve.

If you are facing change on the job, here are some things to consider:
· The loss. If you feel that you are fighting the change, take a step back and consider what it is that you believe you are losing. Remember: If you cannot handle loss in your life, you cannot have growth in your life.

Perhaps it is the fact that you are afraid you will lose your visibility on the job because technology is taking over, or that you will lose yourself somehow when a job is lost.
Human ingenuity on the job is still critical, no matter how much technology is put into place. For those who suffer when they are laid off, remember: Your job is not your identity.

· The signs. Angry? Crabby? Blowing up at stuff that doesn’t matter? These are all indications, along with feeling blue, that change is causing problems in your life. Find a way to acknowlege these feelings and perhaps talk to a family member or friend about how you feel. If you have a case of the blues that simply won’t get better or go away, seek professional help.

· Saying goodbye. Many companies do not realize that desks can be moved, but not hearts. That means that even if an office is just moving across town, then employees need a chance to confront their feelings – maybe they will have a longer commute, they will miss their favorite coffee shop or their desk by the window that had a view of the park. At the same time, employees should be allowed to say what they may miss about the old way of doing things, then talk about their concerns for the future. Once that's out in the open, managers can help workers accept the changes to come.

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Miriam Salpeter said...

Thanks for another great post, Anita. I hope you are recovering well!

The ability to adapt to change is probably one of the most important "soft" skills employees can have.

Remember when "telecommuting" was a novelty? The workplace will continue to change and evolve in the near- and long-terms. Workers, managers and top-level executives must learn to embrace the changes that will come in the next decade. No one likes a whiner.

Miriam Salpeter
Keppie Careers

Anita said...

I think everyone is allowed to bitch and moan a bit...but then they've got to suck it up and move on. If they don't,,ell, as you say, no one likes a whiner, and bosses get rid of those they don't like. (I'm doing OK, but one-armed typing is a pain!! Thanks for the good wishes.)

Scot Herrick said...

What I'm really interested in, Anita, is not how people cope with one change as described here -- as good as this advice is -- but multiple changes happening all at once. You know, like what happens every day.

How do people manage to face the loss, grieve, and move on with multiple changes? Do they keep a scorecard for each change and analyze how they are doing for each one?

I'm re-reading this and it may appear coming across as negative, but I'm personally struggling with helping my readers deal with the multiples of every day business: multiple projects, multiple teams, matrix managers, multiple initiatives, multiple goals, and conflicting priorities.

Most of what I read in the literature reflects this single minded approach to work issues when the real problem is the multiple events happening all of the time that cry out for a discipline to address all the stuff.

Have you seen anything like that out there?

Anita said...

I'm going to answer this in sort of a personal way. I know exactly what you're talking about. As a reader of my blog, you know I've faced my share of s--t rolling down on me this past year. I've struggled with coping with a deluge of problems and obstacles and the loss of a major portion of my income because of the poor economy. I think part of the issue for me has been the loss of "real" connections in how we work. People use e-mails and voice messages...and yes, even blogs... to distance themselves from one another. So, it's easy to pile on the problems for someone else because it's done with the click of a mouse or a voice message left as 3 a.m. I find myself reaching out more and more to a network of people who are beginning to feel like I am. I just got a press release from a University of Michigan professor who says that our reliance on electronic communication is actually making us more miserable in many ways. And, there's an interesting story in the latest issue of "O" where a woman gave up electronic communication for one month and felt much less stressed by what she had to accomplish every day. I don't know if this is really an answer, but let's keep talking and maybe we can come up with some answers, Scot.