Workplace happy colleagues

5 tips for managing workplace change

Today, few of us hold a ‘job for life’. Instead, the average UK worker now has six jobs over their careers, a number that looks set to rise further over the coming decades. People aged 18−34 only plan to stay in their current job for an average of 3 years and 4 months. If they repeat this throughout their entire working lives, this comes to 12.5 jobs across their career.1

Most of us therefore experience change in the workplace, if only from switching jobs. Even if you do stay at one company for your entire career, there’ll still likely be some change within your company to contend with.

This makes change at work pretty much inevitable. And although it might be true that ‘a change is as good as a rest’, for some, change can bring its own difficulties. Coping with it — and ultimately learning to thrive through it — is therefore a vital skill to introduce to your repertoire.

The impact of change

Change triggers many of the same physiological and psychological effects as stress. Indeed, change can lead to workplace stress if you don’t properly manage it.

Often, these feelings are brought on by a lack of control. At work, this might be in relation to our workloads, working patterns, colleague/manager relationships, deadlines or simply a lack of clarity or direction in your role. Plus, of course, over the past couple of years the way we work itself has changed, thanks to increased numbers of employees adopting hybrid working, or even full-time working from home.

And with ongoing economic uncertainty very much at the front of everyone’s minds, for many people there’s increased concern about the security of their employment entirely. It’s easy to see that sometimes, change isn’t for the better.

1 Investec Click & Invest survey, November 2017

Plotting the change curve

When the effect of change becomes overwhelming, it can trigger some of the feelings associated with bereavement. After all, change is a loss of sorts, as we mourn what was and learn to accept what will be. The Change Curve is a model that describes this, based on research into the grieving process by psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s.

Mood graphic

The stages of change

  1. Shock
    The moment we can all identify with: Realising change is coming.
  2. Denial
    We hold onto the belief that the change isn’t relevant to us or what we do, in business or life.
  3. Frustration
    We respond with anger or frustration, for example thinking ‘I won’t allow this to happen.’
  4. Depression
    Here, change can get on top of us; everything we are currently doing feels unnecessary due to the looming change. It’s at this lowest point that it’s most important to look after your wellbeing — you can refer yourself for a Wellbeing Check from our in-house rehabilitation team if you feel your wellbeing is suffering.
  5. Experiment
    We start wondering if the change could work for us and begin trying things out mentally, considering new scenarios and ways of thinking. This is the point where we start to accept that we cannot prevent the change.
  6. Decisions
    We come to terms with the change and start to feel more positive about our future.
  7. Integration
    What was new and uncomfortable is now just the way things are. We’ve worked to integrate the change into our lives: It’s now our new norm.

Coping with change

Given the effects change can have, the importance of adaptation is clear. This is known as resilience. But how do you do that?

1. Understand change (and don’t avoid it)

Usually, change is inevitable. We’ll all face some sort of change at some point; that’s not something we can control.

However, you can control how you react to it and transition through any difficulties that arise because of it, either internally from your own feelings or in relation to external factors that come about because of the change.

It’s often the natural reaction to resist change and try to avoid its impact. However, generally the change will continue regardless. Avoiding it therefore makes little sense; if you can’t accept an inevitable change, you risk becoming stressed and overwhelmed as it happens.

When considering change, acceptance is important, so you can tackle it head on rather than burying your head in the sand.

2. Speak up about concerns

Relay your concerns to your manager early on. Don’t forget, managers are also employees — if you’re experiencing workplace change, it’s likely they are too (or have at least experienced it before).

Unum offers line managers CPD-accredited training in our On Course workshops to help them help employees experiencing change, with topics including managing mental health and stress at work.

If being honest about your concerns with your manager raises any personal concerns for you regarding the change, it may be worth checking out our series of U-First workshops. Designed for employees and covering topics such as resilience and thriving through change, these can provide valuable guidance during any workplace upheaval.

3. Ask questions

When you speak to your manager, it might be helpful thinking of some questions you hope to have answered. Your manager can probably offer helpful information about to help you better prepare and adapt, as well as put your mind at ease.

One question you might want to ask is about your employer’s workplace wellbeing strategy, as this could help you adapt to upcoming changes. Many companies already have one, but if your company doesn’t, Unum’s Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing Review can examine their current arrangements and offer support to implement a new strategy.

4. Get support

While accepting and embracing change is the best way to thrive through it, it’s by no means easy.

When facing change, the desire to resist and feelings of worry or fear are perfectly normal reactions. This isn’t something you can just switch off. Many people therefore understandably suffer from stress and anxiety when faced with change that ends up being detrimental to their wellbeing. That’s why it’s important to reach out for support where you can.

Help@hand,* the health and wellbeing app from Unum, offers unlimited access to video mental health support from qualified mental health professionals on your smartphone. You can speak to them about issues such as anxiety, stress or depression, including that arising from changes at work.

5. Take care of your wellbeing

Above all, taking care of yourself and your wellbeing is essential while you’re experiencing change. It is only from a place of mental wellness and strength that you can best prepare for change and tackle it head on.

Meanwhile, employees covered by Unum’s Group Income Protection can self-refer to our Mental Health Pathway, an early intervention strategy for those recognising that they’re starting to struggle with their mental health to reduce the risk of long-term problems developing.

Ultimately, everyone faces change at some point in their personal or professional lives. Adapting to it can help you transition from an ending to a new beginning and thrive — no matter what life throws your way.

* Help@hand is a virtual, value-added benefit service which connects the employees of Unum customers to third party specialists who can help manage their health and wellbeing, and that of their family. Access to the service is facilitated by Unum at no cost to the Unum customer. Unum is not the provider of the service but can withdraw or change the service at any time. The service is entirely separate from any insurance policy provided by Unum and is subject to the terms and conditions of the relevant third-party specialists. There is no additional cost or increase in premium as a result of Unum making this benefit available.

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