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Organizational Change: Problem or Process?

Suggestions for dealing with change at work

Rosie Barry


June 23, 2009

Things change in life. Sometimes we like the changes and sometimes we don't. In the workplace, unless it’s a promotion or increase in pay for us, we commonly see change as a challenge. That is understandable. The new brain research tells us that, at first blush, change will be taken in by the brain as a challenge. A new boss, a new unit, a new way of doing things--all these can be challenging. Having to do more with less--that's challenging, too. We react to these changes automatically in a fight or flight manner. But you can take charge of change by how you address it. You can look at the change as a problem and be stuck with it, or you can see it as an inevitable part of your life and move through it. Below are some suggestions for dealing with change at work.

How to Move through Organizational Change:

  1. Accept that change is a part of living. The exact work you do and the people you work with can change as a result of reorganization or budget cuts. Recognize the loss in that and accept the things that you cannot alter. Focus on the things you can control.
  2. Invent the future instead of lingering in the past. Try new things in a new way, rather than focusing on how things are no longer what they once were.
  3. Take ownership of the changes. When changes come, give yourself time to get used to them before reacting. Then think about what you need to be successful in the new situation.
  4. Think about small steps toward your future. What do you want your future to be? What baby steps can you take toward that at this time? Don't create large, overwhelming projects.
  5. Choose your battles. It's easy to insist that things need to be a certain way, but if that certain way is impossible, you are wasting your time. Use your "insisting" energy to accomplish things that are possible and will make a difference.
  6. Connect with others. Good relationships with others are important. Accepting help and support from others will give you strength and hope. If you find you are in a regular complaining mode every day with the same people, however, that may not be a healthy connection for you.
  7. Think positively about yourself. It's easy to fall into a pattern of thinking negatively about yourself or your organization, but it's not healthy. Think positively about what you want and how to do get it.
  8. Learn from the past. Think about other changes you've handled in your life. What's worked for you in the past? How can you apply the lessons to this situation?
  9. Practice good stress management techniques. Stress and fear can have a negative impact on our health. Pay attention to yourself. Think about what you like to do for fun and do it. It's easy to say we're too busy and stressed to do those things. Times of change are when we most need to do them to stay healthy.
  10. Keep your sense of humor. An old saying is that "this too shall pass," and indeed, when you look back on this time later in your life, it's likely that this is just one of many changes that you have handled in your career. Do what you can and move on.

Rosie Barry is an assistant director in the Organizational Effectiveness division of the Office of Human Resources where she works with individuals and teams on the many issues that arise from organizational change.