Workplace change. Depending on your frame of mind and the circumstances at work, this phrase may either provoke joy or fear.
Not all workplace transitions are created equal.
Some changes are long overdue, and we welcome them wholly. When these changes come our way, we are counting the days until it happens! FINALLY, “they” are doing something about this!
Unwelcome changes in the workplace can promote a slew of difficult feelings. Perhaps you feel anxious, angry or sad. It may be that a combination of emotions well up and it can cause some confusion and generalized discomfort.
No one is immune to changes within their workplace. So much is tied to our employment, beyond just our income. Pieces of our identity and our feeling of purpose in life is tied into our work. When there are transitions in the workplace that we feel negatively about, all those factors can be impacted.
If we sense our employment is at risk, our income and standard of living feels threatened. If we’re worried about whether the mortgage gets paid, it is hard to maintain a level of detached neutrality. The stakes are high. Is it any wonder workplace changes spike such varied reactions within us?
Coping with Unwelcome Transitions at Work
If you are facing transitions at work that you are dreading, consider the following strategies to stay grounded and manage the change.
Find out how your role will be affected:
Some changes in the workplace may affect only some departments. Is your role going to be affected? Learn what you can about the direct impact on your role and your day to day operations.
Sometimes our anticipation about change is worse than the actual change itself. If you’re able to find out how your role will change ahead of time you will at least be able to prepare for the change mentally.
Perhaps you can spend some time envisioning the new layout of your workday and this may relieve some stress.
Allow for some optimism:
Your feelings about the changes at work may be preventing you from looking at the situation with objectivity. Imagine you are going into a new job and you are entering with these new changes already in place.
Would there be positive aspects to this new situation? Without comparing it to what you’re used to, can you envision there being benefits to these changes for you or the company?
Create a plan B:
If you’re feeling super negative vibes about the changes, consider making a backup plan. Spruce up your resume, look at other career options that seem like good possibilities. Is there an opportunity to transition into another part of your company? Developing a plan B doesn’t mean you’re necessarily acting on it.
Just as your employer needs to adapt to stay relevant and keep the business going, so do you. Consider yourself a “company” of your own right, in that you have certain obligations to maintain outside of work, and certain career interests that will keep you feeling fulfilled and satisfied. Your best interests need to be your priority above that of your employer.
Talk to your colleagues:
How do others feel about the upcoming changes? Are others feeling apprehensive? Do they feel differently about the changes than you do? Communicating with others may sound like the most obvious task, but sometimes when we get caught up in our own fears about something, we forget.
Perhaps colleagues have additional information about the changes that will help you to feel better about it or may offer you enough information to help you make your own decision about what to do. Exploring others’ feelings about the changes may also initiate collaboration in the face of these changes.
Maybe you can work together to advocate for your needs with the company or offer one another moral support.
Dealing with the Emotions of Change
Usually the worst part of any change is the wait. The time that lapses between learning of a pending change and the actual change can feel like an eternity. During that time you may experience a vast array of emotions and physiological distress signals.
In situations like this, the mind can be working overtime to troubleshoot this problem. If you find yourself obsessing about the changes, practice some gentle, non-judgmental observations of your thoughts.
Notice the areas you return to and redirect your thoughts to something specific that is more productive and less distressing.
Anxiety or panic attacks:
Shortness of breath, shaking, heart racing, feeling dizzy or worse, a feeling like you are “going crazy” or feel as if death is on your doorstep. These can be signs of anxiety or panic attacks. If you are fully in panic attack mode, focus on the first and most basic task; breathing.
Take a breath in, while counting to four in your mind. Hold that breath for a count of seven. Exhale the breath slowly for a count of eight.
Repeat this 4-7-8 breathing pattern until you notice your physical symptoms start to fade. Put a cold cloth on your head or neck. Lay down on your back and concentrate on the way the cool cloth feels on your head. Refocus your attention onto something specific and concrete.
Try saying the alphabet and naming an object that starts with each letter as you go. Redirecting your mind is a helpful way to hijack your anxiety attack and calm your mental process while you reduce your physical symptoms. Remember that anxiety and panic is temporary. Remind yourself of that throughout the event. The physiological process that goes with anxiety attacks just need to run their course. You will not die from anxiety or panic. Just stay in a comfortable place, use mental distraction and tend to your physical symptoms.
Reach out to others for support. Anxiety attacks are fairly common, so don’t worry about others’ judgments of you.
You may end up having to resort to forced relaxation. If you are mentally and physically wound up, demand that you relax. Even if you can only manage it for 10-15 minutes at a time, sit and focus on your breathing.
Watch some mindless tv or listen to some classical music, which is shown to reduce distress.
Resist the urge to turn to substance use or overeating as a coping strategy.
These behaviors during times of distress are a set up for long-term problems and limited resilience. Burn off excess energy and anxiety with exercise. Talk to a trusted friend or counselor about your feelings.
Workplace change isn’t always welcome, but you will survive it, and may even find hidden strengths during the transition.