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Managing workplace change, how to survive this career killer

workplace change

How do you handle change and stress in the workplace?

How do you react to workplace change?

This is just a personal observation on the change in the workplace, but I believe that 90% of employees feel they handle change in a positive manner. As a casual observer that is usually involved with rolling out workplace change, I believe less than 10% of employees handle change in a positive manner. After a change is announced, I usually have a steady stream of folks stopping by the office to give me their opinions. The more significant the workplace change the more people I see. Even if the change doesn’t affect the individual employee, I still hear their thoughts and see the reactions. As the HR guy, I have the unique opportunity to compare and contrast these attitudes and behaviors and hope readers may benefit from these observations.

After workplace change is announced, I get the spectrum of reactions and emotions:

  • “This change should have happened years ago. It’s about time management woke up to the problem! I have been talking about this for months!”
  • “We have always done it this way! Why would they want to change anything? It works and getting everyone onboard with this new way is going to slow us down.”
  • “I am looking forward to the new workflow. I think it is going to speed us up and make things more efficient. It might be tricky initially, but it will be a good thing for everyone in the end.”

Ask yourself this

When change is announced in your workplace, how do you react? How did you react when the following were announced in your workplace?

  • Change in workflow or process
  • Change in leadership or a new reporting structure
  • Announcement of budget cuts

What did your manager and your peers see in your behaviors and reactions?

  • Did you look past the adversity and get back to business?
  • Are you surrounding yourself with drama queens and fueling the fire or helping put the fire out?
  • Did you look for the positive and try to provide a solution?

Heavy on the ugly

I have been involved with layoffs, integrated multiple purchased companies post M&A and seen changes in leadership. I have seen controversial promotions and rolled out new software tools. In each of these instances, I saw multiple employees on a daily basis comment both publicly and behind closed doors. In these situations, attitude, behavior, verbal tone and body language was good, bad and ugly. Heavy on the ugly. I completely respect that folks may not appreciate the change in the workplace, but how they present themselves as they communicate their “suggestions for improvement” in public is hard to be ignored by peers, managers, and leadership. I try to coach a more diplomatic attitude, but in the heat of the moment, it can be hard to keep a level head when talking through change. These are stressful times and we need to be self-aware of how we carry ourselves in these situations.

I hire employees in anticipation of adversity

It is easy for anyone and everyone to act graciously when the big deals are being closed, the money is flowing and times are good. It is easy to carry yourself with style when folks are getting promoted or receiving year-end bonuses.

What separates the great employees from the not so great employees is how we handle adversity, stress, and change. Whether it is a layoff, a re-org, or personal stress, these events set us up for opportunities to be judged as naysayers or supporters. The business needs to carry on despite change and individual attitudes will be viewed as one of the big factors of change management in the workplace.

Behavior as it relates to extremes

HRNasty’s theory of people and how they handle themselves:

An individual’s true self will emerge in extreme circumstances.

The two examples of extremes I use on a regular basis are alcohol and money. I think I am in a unique situation to observe this because I don’t drink and have seen friends and colleagues become drunk in both good times and bad. Working in a tech bubble, I have seen friends and colleagues fall into ungodly amounts of money. In both cases, I was able to witness the before and after effects of alcohol. I have also witnessed the broke dot.com employees suddenly having the ability to wipe with hundies. Based on these observations, I believe the extremes bring out the real you.

Type of drunk

Even if you have hidden it well, if you are a mean or petty person and you become drunk, I believe the rest of us will see a mean or petty drunk. It is easy to put on a show when we are sober, but the real self will appear with the addition of alcohol. Our “guy friend” becomes an asshole as the evening wears on. Our cheerleader girlfriend becomes a bitch. The polite Dr. Jekyll becomes evil Mr. Hyde. Conversely, if you are the nice person and drink, you will be the nice drunk. Alcohol becomes a catalyst to be more friendly and more complimentary of others. 

Regardless of your financial worth, if you were cheap and stingy before winning the lottery, you will probably be more cheap and stingy after winning the lottery. If you were generous when you were broke, you will probably be more generous when you win the lottery. 

Mr. Hyde or Dr. Jekyl

HRNasty’s Theory of Behavior in Extremes extends to stress and change in the workplace. We can have an employee who is doing great work and is a consummate team player. Add stress, shake violently and the real self emerges. The flip side of our asshole is the nice guy. In the face of adversity, the gracious employee will continue to be gracious and our petty employee becomes the asshole, the Mr. Hyde, or the bitch.

If there is an unusual amount of resentment and stress around a company decision, the company may need more communication around that decision. To be a problem solver and not a problem causer, I blogged about increasing company buy in here. 🙂

As employees, we can accept or fight the decision. We can accept the change and play ball or we can question the change and resist. Change isn’t painful, it is the resistance to change that hurts.

For company or individual career?

By all means, we should ask the questions and clarify the intent of the company decisions. We should be conscious of asking these question in a diplomatic fashion.If you think the company is making a wrong decision, I am not asking you to consider playing ball for the company’s sake. I am asking you to play ball for the sake of your individual career. There is a difference.

I always wonder if folks realize what they look like when they resist change and rant about what they believe to be poor company decisions.

If your company is going through change, my recommendation is that we first recognize that the decision was made and for most of us, we are probably not going to be able to do much about it. I don’t want to sound too cynical, but let’s face it: if your company is going through a layoff or changing leadership, these decisions have been in the works for quite a while. CEO’s don’t wake up one morning and say to HR, “Lay off 15% of the company today” with no heads up. It may feel like that is the case, but trust me, these decisions are usually thought out.

Human Nature

How we react to these stressful situations will be seen and judged. HR isn’t running around with a clipboard documenting and rating reactions. It is human nature. Everyone gets a little more judgmental in stressful times. Some of this is just a loss of focus on the job at hand and the stress getting the best of us.

It is easy to lose focus on our day jobs when our futures are uncertain. My advice is to recognize that in most cases, all we can do is focus on the day job, and not become distracted.

Quit if you want to, but until we have an offer from another company, we are employed by our current employer and we are not in a position to go anywhere. For our own careers, we want to create as many options as we possibly can. Being resistant to change in public venues is limiting our options.

It’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters

I am NOT saying we should blindly follow the company gospel when we think the company is making bad decisions. It is not only OK but it is encouraged to give opinions when change is afoot. We just want to make sure that these opinions are presented in such a way that they will be listened to. We may be well-intentioned, but if our message isn’t received well the impact will be harmful to our careers. It’s all in the approach folks, it’s all in the presentation. We can have the best idea, but if the presentation of this idea is perceived to be out of frustration or anger, the idea probably won’t be heard.

Before you march into your manager’s office and blow off some steam, write down your thoughts and put a strategy in place.Figuring out a way to be supportive of workplace change is the quickest way to be noticed in a good way. Bitching about a company idea that we are probably not able to have much influence on is probably not in our careers best interest. 

See you at the after party,

HRNasty

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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