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When to make change count in your business

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Beverly Branson Beverly Branson

Beverly Branson is a psychologist at Clayman & Associates PLLC.

Change at times seems like the only thing we can count on. What do they say?  It's inevitable.  Whether we view a change as positive or negative, it can still cause stress.  Our reaction to modifications can be healthy if we have, or can learn, the necessary coping skills.  In the corporate world, employees face many changes. Some of the most distressing involve realignment.   A timely example of such potential upheaval is with the election of a new Pope.  For the first time in 600 years a pope resigned his position, causing varying levels of anxiety among members of the Catholic Church and its worldwide community, a shift in what could be referred to as their corporate culture. 

Whenever changes occur in the leadership of any organization, all members of the organization are asked either overtly or subtly to adapt to new values, practices, and expectations.  When an employee is required to move or accept new leadership, their adjustment can impact their work performance, their co-workers, and the company at large.  So what can a company do to keep from losing valued employees while keeping production and morale high?  

First, recognize what factors may contribute to potentially unhealthy adjustment.  Employees often see change as threatening to their tenure, job roles, career paths, as well as status and power within the organization. Most people resist change because it makes them feel uncomfortable and the future is uncertain.  

Also, cognitive decline or below-average intellectual deficits can contribute to difficulties in learning new skills or new ways to adapt.  Untreated substance abuse or mental health issues may make an employee unable to safely and efficiently perform.  

Corporations can ease transition by:

  • Making incremental and clearly defined changes, rather than radical and ambiguous moves.  
  • Holding workshops or staff meetings prior to the change, thus helping decrease anxiety by providing clear communication about new expectations of employees. 
  • Addressing skill gaps by encouraging employee initiative and sense of empowerment that can increase self-confidence and feelings of personal control over the situation. Feeling in control of a situation increases our adaptability.
  • Offering stress management training and fitness and wellness programs help provide additional coping skills and social support to contribute to the employee's overall health and well-being.  

It is also important to consider the job-person fit as well as individual coping skills, personality styles and organizational factors as they relate to employee adaptability.  People who have successfully adjusted to a similar stressor are likely to have the necessary coping skills to adapt.  However, others may react to change with rage, depression, extreme anxiety, or substance abuse. 

Most people experience some level of discomfort for a brief period following change that may include anger, sadness or increased anxiety.  However, the behavior we exhibit in response to these emotions can become problematic in the work place. Poor adjustment may result in decreased productivity and attendance issues. Unfortunately, problematic employee behaviors can sometimes be more than maladjustment and can be dangerous.   

Always seek consultation for a situation when an employee voices threats to self or others, demonstrates dangerous behaviors, has extreme emotional outbursts or if there are signs of substance abuse. While these examples may seem extreme, in reality any change in employee behavior that is markedly different from their previous baseline behaviors can signal that the person is having problems in making a healthy adjustment.  A thorough evaluation by a well-trained professional can help determine the source of stress for the employee, identify maladaptive behaviors, and make recommendations to help both the employee and the employer, who may be able to preserve a valuable, key employee.  The evaluation should also be able to answer important questions such as:

  • Are the issues treatable?  
  • Can the employee safely return to work?  
  • Can they continue in the same position or at a different capacity? 
  • What special accommodations would be needed to continue in their employment?  
  • Do they need treatment or monitoring in order to safely perform their duties? 

With any situation involving change, recognizing warning factors for potentially problematic circumstances and having a solid plan and support partner in place will help guide the organization through a smoother and more effective transition. 

Adjustment may be difficult, but the effort will be worth it if it is done correctly. Change is good.