Coping with Constant Change

Everywhere I go the conversation inevitably gets around to change – not the small stuff you keep in your wallet or the glove box of the car – but rather, organisational change, the sort that keeps on going and going. The sort that people either love or loathe. The sort that either excites or exhausts.  ‘What’s the best way to cope with the stress of constant change?’ people ask.

Today, constant change is a constant. Coping with it well is a key requisite, requiring the ability to anticipate change, adapt to it quickly and enjoy what it brings.  The theory of coping with change sounds great, but in practice, it can be difficult to do and sustain, over a prolonged period of time. Typically, individuals’ experience a number of common stressors in coping with constant change. It’s been said that people do not fear change, rather, they fear loss – loss of security, competence, relationships, territory, direction and control.

It’s difficult to keep on keeping on when you feel you have little control over your working world. It’s difficult when change is announced, out of the blue, without warning. It’s equally difficult when major change finally happens, after months and months of discussion, anticipation and anxiety. It’s difficult when aspects of a job are taken away or added to, without real consultation or agreement. It’s taxing to keep adapting to new requirements, when there is little time for real consolidation between the changes. It’s demanding to implement the latest change processes when important, smaller details haven’t been worked out,  yet operationally, they’re needed.  It’s difficult too, when there is little time given to leave one role or major project, to go into another and important tasks get the once-over-lightly or the don’t-look-at-again treatment. The list goes on.

Another stressor is that the ‘markers’ keep shifting. For most individuals, acknowledgment and recognition of work done well is important. It’s difficult to get that sometimes when organisational priorities change and projects are significantly altered or abandoned, mid way through. It’s difficult to get when the focus is on the

what’s-next-to-do-list and scant attention is seemingly paid to past achievements and successes. It can seem so pointless, so morale sapping, when what was so important today, is wiped out tomorrow.

So what can individuals do?

Acknowledge that constant change is a constant happening. To survive it well, you need the ability to anticipate it, quickly adapt, change and enjoy change, if you can. Extreme self care is an important element to help you through demanding change processes. This means, for example, simplifying the personal life and shedding any additional, demanding roles or tasks – it may not be the right time to be the kid’s soccer coach, the chair of the local Board of Trustees, a member of a number of committees and a tireless volunteer at the local charitable trust

Take a reality check – Superman/woman are fictional characters, not role

models – there is a difference. Shedding additional roles/tasks can create time and space for rest and relaxation.  Stress is an inevitable result when there are too many responsibilities and demands, over a long period of time, without adequate rest and relaxation.  If you can afford it, buy in people to do tasks around the home that are driving you crazy (you don’t have to do everything, do you?) Take your annual leave when its due (no, the place won’t fall apart without you) and give yourself sufficient time away from the workplace to regenerate. Create time (it won’t appear by itself, you have to work on this) to reflect on things – is there a healthy balance in your working and personal life and if not, what can you do about it? What goodies can you get from the change processes? What are you no longer prepared to tolerate, in your working world? Where does your current role and resultant demands fit with your personal values and goals? What other coping strategies could you adopt, to survive and thrive in the current climate?

So what can organisation’s do?

Involve staff in change processes. Listen to individuals, get their views and ideas. Set goals together. Take time to endorse and acknowledge all that is positive and good. Celebrate individual and team achievements. Highlight the successes to date and give them context in the process of continuous improvement and ongoing change. Ensure you keep people well informed. Acknowledge the losses. Plan well – not only the big picture stuff but also the smaller component parts, remembering that a lack of detail is hard on the organisation and on the staff who implement change. Monitor the change processes carefully and take fast action if it needs adjustment. Recognise the stages that individual’s typically go through in change processes – denial, resistance, exploration and commitment – and act appropriately for each stage. Debrief after change processes, to identify what went well and less well. Learn from any mistakes made in the change process. Allow individuals and teams time to farewell the past and prepare clients and colleagues of future changes.


First Published in NZBusiness May 2002�

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