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Changes Happening at Work? Here’s How to Cope

by Cara Haynes
May 21, 2019 | Health

Once you’ve been through major upheaval at work, it’s hard to not get skittish the next time you feel changes brewing.

The moment your boss calls everyone in for an unexpected meeting, you get jitters. It’s clear something is changing, but it’s not clear what. Could it be layoffs? A new manager? Or possibly a merger with a new company?

If you’re anything like me, you over-analyze every word out of your manager’s mouth. But once the other shoe drops, you’ve got a new set of emotions to manage: How will you cope with the change?

You can't stop change

If your workplace is like most, this is probably when your manager will start talking about “embracing change.” But how exactly do you do that?

Illustration of people talking around a water cooler. Changes pbs rewire
A good vent session every now and again is nice and even necessary, but they can get toxic quickly.

Humans are creatures of habit, and for good reason. Most of us need the stability of a routine to feel safe, and work is a big part of that. Plus, we’re more productive when we feel happy and safe. But, as your manager will also say, change is an inevitable part of the workplace. So, one way or another, we’ve got to find a way to cope with it.

While changes at work will always be about as fun as walking on marbles, here are some strategies that have worked for me and other professionals.

Focus on helping others

Chances are you’re not the only one who feels uncomfortable with change at work. It’s hard to fight your survival instincts when new things are happening. But if you can take the focus away from your own sense of security and point it toward someone else’s, it will help you relax.

Virtual Vocations CEO Laura Spawn works with contractors and freelancers, which means her workspace is constantly evolving. The company is always working to make employees feel comfortable.

“We’re not always working with the same people day in and day out, and that can take a toll on professionals who are more accustomed to consistency in the workplace," Spawn said. “This is why it’s so important to us... to foster a positive, inclusive digital workplace that makes everyone feel like they’re part of the team, regardless of how long they’ve been with the company or what role they play.”

To do this, Spawn makes space for her employees to have personal conversations over platforms like Slack so they can get to know each other more quickly and feel like they belong.

If you find yourself among new team members after a change, invite them to lunch or for a walk outside. Ask them how they’re feeling about the change, what they like and what they miss about how it was before.

The more you focus on helping someone feel like they’re a part of the team, the sooner you’ll feel a part of it too.

Try to see it as a growth opportunity

Like it or not, experiencing change is really the only way to get better at it. Hearing that you need to engage in a growth mindset can be maddening, but there’s some truth to it.

“The silver lining to any change in the workplace is opportunity, often to add new skills to your repertoire or work with new team members,” said Ian McClarty, CEO of PhoenixNAP Global IT Services.

Although there is always some grief involved with change, looking at your change through the lens of a new opportunity is the best way to transform a loss into a win.

One way to move through change more productively is to actively prime your mind for it. That’s the strategy that Stephen Twomey, head of marketing at Mission to Market, uses in his workplace.

“Daily positive affirmation is really a must if you are to build a bulletproof mindset in life, but particularly in business,” Twomey said.

“Someone does something unexpected? OK, it's not that big of a deal. We just adapt and continue on. Change is not a reflection of you or us as a company. We build that mental toughness and adaptability into our teams and leadership on a daily basis.”

Try listening to podcasts on the particular issue you’re facing at work. Or simply take the time to meditate before you get to work or while you’re on a break. Developing behaviors that renew you will make it easier to see changes as opportunities going forward.

Strengthen your support system outside the office

If the only friends you talk to are coworkers going through the same situation, it’s hard to not fall into gossip or vent sessions. Of course, a good vent session every now and again is nice and even necessary, but they can get toxic quickly.

Make sure you have a support system completely separate from your work life. When you need a break from work, you can talk about hiking trails with your outdoor friend or relive college memories with a former roommate. Conversations with people who don’t know anything about the chaos unfolding at your workplace can be a welcome reality check that the world isn’t ending after all.

Dealing with change that’s outside of your control is never easy, but the right mindset and methods can go a long way when it comes to bouncing back from it. With a bit of strategy and a dash of self-care, you can turn a change at work into an experience you value rather than one you resent.

Cara Haynes
Cara Haynes is an editor and freelance writer who thinks words are probably the most important thing we have. She spends too much time thinking about them, whether that means reading the labels on her shampoo bottles or sending novel-length texts to her husband. When she's not doing word work, she enjoys doing leg work in the mountains with her goldendoodle, Dobby. You can find her wherever there is chocolate-chip cookie dough within walking distance.
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